With over 3 million visitors from abroad visiting the ancient capital of Kyoto in fiscal 2015, getting around with an official interpreter would have meant relying on government-qualified guides.

But critics have claimed that interpreter/guides who have passed national tests on language, history, culture and politics aren’t necessarily well-versed on the details of Kyoto’s rich history and culture.

That’s why the city has founded the Kyoto Visitors Host program, aimed at nurturing tour guides who have in-depth knowledge on the city and are fluent enough in a foreign language to explain it to visitors.

The program, which began in November 2015, trains residents and visitors of any nationality to become professional city guides.

While Kyoto still lacks the broad range of interpreter/guides offering the kinds of highly specialized historical tours one finds in cities like London or Paris, the Kyoto Visitors Host program is a first step toward recognizing the need for local experts who can provide a special localized experience for foreign guests.

The inaugural group of students specialized in English and Chinese. The second class, which began the program earlier this month, will include those who can explain Kyoto in English, Chinese and French.

For those whose native language is Japanese, some proof of English proficiency, such as a TOEIC score of at least 730, is necessary to be an English interpreter. Nonnative speakers are required to have passed at least the second level of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test.

The program ends in September. Successful graduates can register their names and contact information on a website where interested foreign tourists and tour groups can directly contact them.

Classes include basic instruction in interpreter guide principles and the hospitality industry, as well as Kyoto’s history and culture. Students also take specialized classes in Kyoto’s traditional craft industries and culture, cultural properties and cuisine.

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