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English, Chinese, sign language-savvy volunteers guide visitors at Japan's Ghibli Park

Volunteer Mikio Horiki, seen on the right side of the photo, shows places at the Expo 2005 Aichi Commemorative Park that can be enjoyed for free, in Nagakute, Aichi Prefecture, on Nov. 30, 2022. (Mainichi/Shiho Sakai)

NAGAKUTE, Aichi -- In the morning on Nov. 30, visitors stand still in front of a map at the square outside the main entrance to Ghibli Park, a newly opened theme park in central Japan. "Can I help you with anything?" asks Mikio Horiki, a volunteer guide.

    "Are there any places I can visit for free?" a woman asks. The woman explained that she came from Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture, and does not have a ticket.

    Horiki, a 73-year-old resident of Nagoya, tells the visitor about freely accessible places in the Expo 2005 Aichi Commemorative Park (Moricoro Park), the expansive park where Ghibli Park was built. These include a view spot overlooking Satsuki and Mei's House and the pond next to Ghibli's Grand Warehouse, which Horiki tells them is a nice place to take in the scenery, even just on a stroll. The woman smiles, saying, "There wasn't any info, so this was helpful."

    For the opening of Ghibli Park, the Aichi Prefectural Government sought the help of volunteer guides with English, Chinese and sign language skills. The 180 or so volunteers currently helping out range from high-school age to seniors like Horiki.

    Horiki was motivated as a fan of Ghibli's productions, wanting to see the park up close. This was his fourth time there as a volunteer.

    Ryota Uetake, a 17-year-old remote-learning high school student from Toyota, is another volunteer. He has good memories of cycling with his family at Moricoro Park and wanted to contribute to the community.

    Ryota learned English while living abroad. While opportunities to help foreign visitors have been few since the park opened a month ago, tickets will begin to be sold outside of Japan at the start of the new year. Ryota looks forward to this, saying, "I hope to help those who are in trouble as they can't speak Japanese."

    (Japanese original by Shiho Sakai, Nagoya News Center)

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