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Smartphone-based automatic tourist guidance available for visitors to Hanawa town

7 January 2019

Visit a scenic spot or historical place in the Fukushima Prefecture town of Hanawa and you will automatically hear tourist information through your smartphone…

The town office has introduced such a voice guidance system in anticipation of an increase in tourists from abroad on the occasion of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. The guidance is available in three languages: Japanese, English and Chinese. It is the first service of the kind in the prefecture. Hanawa is pinning high hopes on the system as a new tool to help attract visitors.

Fuji Xerox Co. has developed the voice guidance system for smartphones, with 26 tourist spots in Hanawa registered. Visitors can use it by downloading its app, SkyDesk Media Trek, onto their smartphones free of charge. The system recognizes a smartphone user’s location through the global positioning system (GPS). When a visitor comes within a radius of about 10 meters from registered tourist spots with the app launched, voice guidance automatically starts. Users can select a language of their choice from among Japanese, English and Chinese.

Registered tourist spots include the Dahlia Garden in YuYuland Hanawa, Michinoeki (roadside station) Hanawa, the ruins of a magistrate’s office, a big ginkgo tree at Yakuoji temple, Hanawa Fureai-no-mori (exchange forest) and Furoyama Park known for its "yamatsutsuji" wild azalea. Travelers can enjoy a stroll or drive in the town while listening to the voice guidance. Also on the voice guidance list is the Eryuda Waterfall in the adjacent village of Samegawa.

The Fuji Xerox system is also used by 23 other local governments in Japan, including Furano city in Hokkaido, Hiraizumi town in Iwate Prefecture and Nikko city in Tochigi Prefecture as well as all of Kyoto Prefecture.

Hanawa and its tourist association plan to regularly call on foreign visitors arriving at Fukushima airport from February to use the voice guidance system. The airport is served by charter flights from abroad, including from Vietnam and Taiwan. The town will also hand out Chinese and English versions of its self-prepared tourist guidebook "Hanawa Aruku" to promote its attractiveness.

"The voice guidance system is a new means of attracting visitors based on new technology," says Hanawa Mayor Hidetoshi Miyata. "If other municipalities can come to use it as well, we will be able to promote the allures of Fukushima Prefecture as a whole."

(Translated by Kyodo News)

29 November 2018

Fukushima launches multilingual emergency call service as number of foreign residents rebounds

[Translated by the Japan Times]The prefectural police and fire departments in Fukushima have started multilingual services aimed at non-Japanese speakers making emergency calls amid a rising number of foreign visitors in the run-up to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics.

On Dec. 1 the prefectural police began offering services in English, Chinese and Korean 24 hours a day. Calls made by foreign residents and visitors to the 110 emergency number — as well as to fixed phone lines at 251 police stations and police boxes — will be connected to a three-way call with an outside company offering interpretation services.

The authorities believe they will be able respond and react faster to crimes and traffic accidents reported by foreign residents.

Toshiyuki Kanno, who heads the prefectural police department’s criminal investigation division, and Junichi Konno, an executive at the Tohoku Tourism Promotion Organization, which introduced the interpretation company, signed a memorandum of understanding at the Fukushima Prefectural Police headquarters on Nov. 28.

According to the police, there were 200 emergency calls made by foreign residents and visitors last year. Before Dec. 1, about 30 police officers fluent in foreign languages had been serving as interpreters while conducting their regular duties. When these officers were not available, interpreters from the private sector were sought, a sometimes time-consuming process.

Only the Koriyama and Shirakawa fire departments in the prefecture currently offer a similar three-way phone system, with Koriyama offering the service in 15 languages and Shirakawa 16.

Fire departments in six areas of Fukushima — Date, Adachi, Kitakata, Aizuwakamatsu and Minamiaizu — are expected to introduce the service in five to 10 languages by the end of March 2020. Fire departments in Sukagawa, Soma and Iwaki are also considering introducing the system.

The number of foreign residents in the prefecture plunged after nuclear meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant, which was triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami in March 2011. But the number hit 12,794 in 2017, recovering to the pre-disaster level. The number of foreign visitors staying overnight in the prefecture is also on the rise, topping 130,000 last year.

With the increase, the number of foreign nationals who became crime victims has doubled, from 32 people in 2013 to 66 people last year, according to the police. The figures include cases that have been reported to and recognized by police.

But one problem is that the service is available in a limited number of languages. In Fukushima, there are about 140 Vietnamese nationals working under a foreign trainee program, but the language is not included in the service introduced this month.

“If it offers the service in Vietnamese, I would feel safer,” said a 21-year-old Vietnamese woman who works as a trainee at a metal processing factory in the city of Fukushima.

21 October 2018

Exports of Fukushima-brand alcohol hit record in fiscal 2017

[Translated by the Japan Times]Exports of sake, liquor and other alcoholic beverages produced in Fukushima Prefecture reached a record high of about 296,000 liters in fiscal 2017, or 3.2 times that of fiscal 2012, when the Fukushima Trade Promotion Council, in charge of supporting business activities among local companies and municipalities, began monitoring the figures.

The total value of alcohol exports was ¥363.37 million, up 16 percent from the year before.

The Fukushima Prefectural Government plans to further promote the safety and attraction of local alcohol, aiming to rebuild its reputation after the nuclear meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in March 2011.

In fiscal 2017, the amount of sake exported rose 11.9 percent from a year earlier to 179,000 liters, worth ¥204.69 million. Other alcohol, including whiskey, plum wine, and shōchū (spirits) jumped 23 percent to 117,000 liters, worth ¥158.68 million.

The United States imported 118,000 liters — 77,000 liters of sake and 41,000 liters of other alcohol, accounting for 40 percent of the prefecture’s alcohol export. France imported 53,000 liters — 2,000 liters of sake and 51,000 liters of other alcohol — accounting for 18.1 percent. South Korea imported 39,000 liters of sake, accounting for 13.2 percent.

Out of all the sake produced in Fukushima, 43.1 percent was exported to the U.S. To take advantage of the trend and the popularity of Japanese cuisine in America, the prefecture will launch an antenna shop in New York to sell Fukushima-brand sake by the end of March.

The prefecture will also release about three PR videos with English subtitles on YouTube to promote local sake to English-speaking consumers.

Fukushima aims to increase its alcohol exports to 500,000 liters, worth ¥700 million, by the end of fiscal 2020. It also plans to reinforce sales by focusing on five countries and regions including the U.S., France, where sake is becoming increasingly popular, and Hong Kong, where there are a number of Japanese restaurants.

However, out of the 58 breweries in the Fukushima Prefecture Sake Brewers Cooperative, only 24 had exported their sake abroad. To achieve the prefecture’s goal, the next thing they will need to do is to increase the number of sake exporters.

“It was the result of each maker’s efforts to improve the taste,” Yoshihiro Ariga, chairman of the cooperative, said in referring to the record exports in fiscal 2017.

But he also said further support will be needed.

“It costs a huge amount of money and effort to export sake,” Ariga said, urging municipalities to provide further assistance to small breweries.

According to the Finance Ministry, 23,482,000 liters of sake were exported in 2017, breaking the record for an eighth consecutive year.

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