Japan to allow local governments to train guide-interpreters

The government plans to allow all local governments to train guide-interpreters for paid local services for foreign travelers under a deregulation initiative to help increase the number of foreign visitors to Japan, government sources said Friday.

The central government now licenses professional guide-interpreters through qualification tests, while only nine local governments are specially permitted to train guide-interpreters for local services.

Of some 17,000 existing licensed guide-interpreters, however, only a quarter provide relevant services primarily in large cities, leading to professional guide-interpreter shortages in rural regions, says the Japan Tourism Agency.

The deregulation initiative will encourage all local governments in Japan to train professional guide-interpreters for local services under their respective standards, irrespective of the national qualification tests.

The government intends to submit relevant legislation to parliament possibly this fall to implement the initiative in fiscal 2015 that starts next April, the sources said.

The initiative is expected to help increase high-quality tours led by guide-interpreters well-versed in local conditions and support a government plan to expand the annual number of foreign visitors to 20 million by 2020 from 11 million last year.

Among the nine local governments that have already trained guide-interpreters for foreigners, the Sapporo municipality in northern Japan has tried to increase guides to respond a rising number of travelers from other Asian countries.

Foreign languages subject to its guide-interpreter registration in Sapporo include Malay, Thai and Hindi, as well as English, Chinese and Korean.

Training for English includes 10 hours each for conversation, local geography and history, and tour management, and 18 hours for on-the-job training.

When Sapporo publicly invited citizens to undergo the training last year, the number of applicants reached the limit of 80 in only a day and a half.