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News Navigator: How will Japan handle the increasing number of foreign visitors?

A tour group from Taiwan is seen in the lobby of a hotel in Tokyo's Toshima Ward. (Mainichi)

The Mainichi answers some common questions readers may have about the government's push to attract more foreign visitors to Japan.

Question: Is it true the government doubled its goal for foreign visitors to Japan?

Answers: Yes. The government had set a goal of attracting 20 million visitors to Japan in 2020, but last year visitor numbers jumped by about 50 percent compared to 2014 figures -- reaching some 19.73 million. That's just a hair under the 2020 target, and five years early, so the government has set new goals of 40 million visitors in 2020, and 60 million in 2030.

Q: Will it really happen?

A: There are some hurdles to be overcome, such as the hotel room shortage and finding ways to attract tourists to areas of Japan outside Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto. As hotel vacancies in Tokyo and Osaka are often scarce, there are already moves afoot to encourage visitors to stay in traditional Japanese "ryokan" inns instead.

A Mitsukoshi department store duty free shop opens for business in Fukuoka's Chuo Ward, on April 1, 2016. (Mainichi)

To ensure that foreign tourists visit regional Japan, it's also important to publicize information on what's there. However, small- and mid-sized Japanese firms have been slow to make their websites multilingual, with less than 1 percent of sites related to travel, leisure or cuisine available in a language other than Japanese. The government says it will provide support to help change this.

Q: What other efforts are being made?

A: The government is looking to attract more Westerners in addition to the Asian tourists that make up the bulk of visitors to Japan. It also plans to create greater capacity for private jets at Haneda and Narita airports, in the hopes that more rich visitors will come for long stays. Furthermore, more duty -- free shops are set to be opened in 1,500 commercial areas and tourist spots across the country by 2020. There are a number of public -- private initiatives in the works, but whether they will be successful remains to be seen.

Q: Will there be an effect on our lives?

A: The government is considering making it easier to open hotels and visitor centers in national parks. Meanwhile, it is already encouraging the transformation of empty buildings into hotels, and considering the easing of hotel floor space ratio rules to allow existing hotels to expand. This won't benefit just foreign tourists, but domestic travelers as well -- as it may make it easier to get a room in crowded Osaka or Tokyo.

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