The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan



More multilingual signs
in the works

In the runup to the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, the Ministry of Infrastructure, Land, Transport and Tourism is planning to modify some 17,000 street signs in the greater Tokyo metropolitan area, so that they can be understood by foreign visitors.

In addition to being written in Japanese, some signs at present are also written using the Roman alphabet. These, however, are merely phonetic transcriptions of the Japanese (e.g. Meiji-dori). The new system will clarify the meanings, for example by using the wording Meiji-dori Ave.

Another planned addition is the use of pictograms at Olympic venues, as well as at such major sightseeing areas as Tokyo Skytree, airports, and rail stations.

The first places that will display the new signage, within the current fiscal year, are likely to be the Akihabara electronics retail district and areas in the vicinity of Tokyo International Airport Haneda.

The total number of foreign visitors to Japan during 2015 is predicted to have exceeded 19.7 million, making it probable that the previously stated target of 20 million soon will be surpassed. The government has identified inbound travel as an important component of economic growth.

Thus, it has begun to expedite efforts to bolster tourism infrastructure by taking a number of steps, including arranging consultations with panels of outside advisors.

According to the feedback received from the panels, “signs and explanatory displays are currently unsuitable for foreigners.” Up to now, efforts have mainly gone into the preservation of historical and cultural artifacts, rather than providing multilingual explanations at cultural sites.

As visitor numbers increase, authorities will also need to deal with issues such as how to protect the environment at sites of cultural interest. The government even may try diverting more foreign visitors to regions outside of Tokyo, as a means of coping with expanding inbound tourism.

That said, increased international tourism is certain to bring further complications that will require more than additional multilingual signage to resolve.

Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications
Doubts raised over My Number and point cards

A remark made in January by Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Sanae Takaichi has sparked debate regarding combining the new My Number cards with various types of point cards.

Distribution of the My Number cards—assigned to all adult residents of Japan and initiated to discourage tax evasion—began in October 2015. At present, competition is intensifying among companies that issue such point cards as T Point, Ponta, and Rakuten Super Point.

It is thought that some cardholders would welcome the convenience of merging all their points into a single card.

According to the ministry’s website, standardizing the different point cards would enhance the usability of the My Number cards by making unused space on a card’s IC chip available to private firms. This would also enable closer collaboration between the government and the private sector.

However, there are many potential drawbacks. Should a My Number card also have monetary value, it would raise the likelihood that cards would be lost or stolen, as well as the possibility that personal data might be leaked.

In addition to these security concerns, the notion of merging commercial services of private businesses on a government-issued card seems sure to invite strong opposition. Combining the points from various schemes on a My Number card may also serve to reduce commercial competition for customers.

Widely differing opinions on the issue have been raised even within the ministry, making it uncertain what form the final proposal will take. In the end, the government may be forced to abandon such ideas in its effort to promote the use of the My Number card.

Keizaikai magazine
The government has identified inbound travel as an important component of economic growth.