The Asahi Shimbun
Reflecting growing demand for guide-interpreters fluent in Chinese and Korean, about four times as many applicants from Hong Kong, China, Taiwan and South Korea visited Japan this year compared to 2004 to take the mandated certification test.
About 1,800 applicants from those countries took this year’s test, according to the Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), which undertakes the accreditation process for the transport ministry.
The first screening was held Sept. 4.
The total 8,531 applicants marked a 20-percent increase over last year, the JNTO said.
Of the hopefuls, 638 applied from China and Hong Kong this year, compared with 183 last year; 816 from Taiwan, compared with 27 last year; 405 from South Korea, compared with 225.
JNTO officials were caught off guard by the 225 applicants who wanted to register for the Okinawa test site this year. JNTO had to quickly look for a new testing facility to accommodate the seven-fold increase in applicants for that particular site, which is only a one-hour flight from Taiwan.
Officials say 200 applicants took the test in Chinese at the Okinawa site.
The Fukuoka test site fielded about 700 applicants, nearly double last year’s figure, by opening up more testing rooms. Most applicants there took the exams in Chinese and Korean.
All guide-interpreters working with foreign tourists in Japan must first pass the ministry’s exam.
The guide-interpreter exam is considered a difficult qualification test, with less than 10 percent of the applicants passing. Applicants are tested on a wide field of knowledge about Japan, including geography, history, industry and business.
The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport has cracked down on guides operating without a license.
If caught, unlicensed guides can face a maximum fine of 500,000 yen, up from the previous 30,000 yen.
Until recently, nearly 70 percent of the certified guides were English interpreters.
Now that more tourists are visiting Japan from nearby Asian countries, there is growing demand for Chinese and Korean-speaking guides, and often there are not enough to meet demand.
Hiring an guide-interpreter costs at least 20,000 yen per day. Tour companies wanting to cut costs are seeking home-grown tour conductors to perform as guide-interpreters.(IHT/Asahi: September 13,2005)