The Reconstruction Agency hopes to keep its subsidy program aimed at luring more tourists to disaster-hit Tohoku in place next year, informed sources said.

The agency aims to include some ¥3.3 billion in funds for the program in its budget request for fiscal 2019 starting next April, about the same amount budgeted in the previous year, the sources said.

When the agency set up the subsidy program in fiscal 2016, it said it would review the worth of the program after three years. The subsidies are designed to support municipalities in the region that are trying to beef up tourism in the wake of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

In principle, the agency funds up to 80 percent of the cost of such projects undertaken jointly by multiple municipalities.

The subsidy has been used to check and analyze routes used by travelers, to organize a wider variety of events, and improve the environment for welcoming them by setting up multilingual information boards, for example.

Its aim to maintain the program reflects requests for continued funding from government leaders in the region.

“While Japan as a whole may be enjoying the benefits of an increase of visitors from abroad, Tohoku has only returned to the level before the disaster,” said Miyagi Gov. Yoshihiro Murai.

Miyagi was one of the prefectures hardest-hit on 3/11.

“We need special assistance in order to overcome negative rumors about our region,” Murai said.

Sendai Mayor Kazuko Kori said: “If the subsidy program is retained, I believe it would allow Tohoku to move on to the next stage after reconstruction.”

In 2017 foreign visitors who stayed at least one night in the six prefectures that make up the Tohoku region reached about 950,000.

As the government sets a goal to lift the annual total to 1.5 million by 2020, the agency hopes to continue supporting local efforts through the subsidy program.

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