SAPPORO -- The Hokkaido Prefectural Government will launch a "Christmas train" for foreign tourists and media members on Dec. 24 in a bid to attract more overseas visitors, whose numbers have dwindled since a major earthquake hit the northernmost prefecture in early September.
The train will run between Furano in central Hokkaido, and Wakkanai in the northern part of the prefecture along the JR Furano Line and Soya Line, which are well known even abroad for the beautiful scenery along its route.
Under the plan, about 100 tourists from China, Southeast Asia and other regions as well as some 20 foreign journalists and famous bloggers will be invited to ride the train. The passengers are encouraged to tweet or blog on tourist attractions along the line, and on how areas affected by the earthquake are recovering.
Moreover, some 40 children from the prefectural towns of Atsuma, Abira and Mukawa, which were hit hard by the quake, will be invited to join in the event. The special train will be the North Rainbow Express, which has observation and lounge cars and will be decked out inside with Christmas decorations.
The nine-hour journey from Furano to Wakkanai via Asahikawa will include stops at Nayoro, Otoineppu and Horonobe stations. At those stops, passengers will be welcomed by local residents holding candles and children from quake-affected areas, as well as offers of local produce. Popular Pokemon characters will be part of the welcoming events.
The prefectural government is trying to expand the use of Hokkaido Railway Co. (JR Hokkaido) lines, some of which face closure due to tough business conditions, and the decline in foreign visitors after the September quake was a major blow to that effort. According to JR Hokkaido, September sales of its Hokkaido Rail Pass targeting inbound tourists, which allows the unlimited use of reserved seats on limited express trains, plummeted by some 30 percent from a year earlier.
(Japanese original by Kotaro Adachi, Hokkaido News Department)