National

Trilingual students a big hit as tour guides in Hakodate, Hokkaido

by Ichinoshin Matsuhashi

Kyodo

Bus tour guides who can speak Chinese and English in addition to Japanese are winning kudos from tourists in Hakodate, Hokkaido.

In response to the huge increase in foreign visitors to Japan in recent years, particularly from China, Hakodate Bus Corp. began offering the multilingual guide service in 2014, hiring Chinese and Taiwanese students studying in the city.

“We are about to pass by the ninth station of Mount Hakodate, from where you can have a bird’s-eye view of the city,” Zhu Yanhui explained in fluent Japanese to tourists on a tour bus in early October.

She then switched to Chinese and English, to the delight of the non-Japanese passengers. They listened attentively as Zhu offered bits of local knowledge — like Mount Hakodate is also known as Gagyuzan, or “lying-cow mountain,” due to its shape.

Hakodate, located on the southernmost tip of Hokkaido, is a major port city with a rich history of foreign trade, particularly with Russia, since the 19th century.

It is also a popular tourist destination, best known for Mount Hakodate and its stunning night views, old red-brick historical buildings and fresh seafood.

A 30-minute tour offered by Hakodate Bus takes visitors from a local railway station to the top of Mount Hakodate, showing many of the city’s must-see landmarks along the way.

Zhu, 24, from China’s Hebei province, is a student at Hokkaido University. She came to Hokkaido after studying Japanese at a language school in Kyoto for two years.

Zhu is one of 13 Chinese and Taiwanese students who have so far worked as bus tour guides, according to the company. Zhu, who has been working since May following a month of training, leads bus tours about 10 days a month.

She said she was at first hesitant when a fellow student recommended that she apply for the job.

Although she was not totally confident about her language skills, “I decided to take the chance as I thought it would be a good experience for me.”

It is what she adds to the travel experience for foreign visitors to Hakodate that has proved so valuable.

A tourist from Taiwan said she was surprised that there was a tour guide who could speak Chinese — and added she was able to enjoy the magnificent night view from Mount Hakodate even more thanks to Zhu’s commentary.

Zhu said there are a lot of things she needs to remain aware of, from how to correctly use polite forms of Japanese to Hakodate’s history.

“But I will try to offer explanations in a respectful manner,” she said.

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