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Friday, Oct. 3, 2008

CABINET INTERVIEW

Kaneko to review visa rules


Staff writer

Visa-issuing policies must be reviewed to attract more foreign tourists, according to newly appointed transport minister Kazuyoshi Kaneko.

News photo
Kazuyoshi Kaneko YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTO

The Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry wants to draw 20 million foreign tourists to Japan by 2020, far beyond the 8.4 million who visited last year. On Wednesday, the Japan Tourism Agency was launched to help attain that goal.

"Since we are hoping for this number of people to come from abroad, we certainly cannot avoid the matter of visa-issuing," said Kaneko, 65, during an interview with The Japan Times and other news organizations.

Experts recommend streamlining the visa-issuing process or offering exemptions in certain cases to attract more foreign visitors.

Kaneko took over the post earlier this week after his predecessor, Nariaki Nakayama, was forced to resign only four days into the job after making several verbal gaffes.

Among Nakayama's controversial statements was the assertion that Japan is "ethnically homogeneous."

Kaneko disavowed Nakayama's controversial statement and acknowledged Japan's growing ethnic diversity. Asked about the exclusionary mentality of some Japanese, the Lower House lawmaker, who represents the Gifu No. 4 constituency, said it is imperative for people to welcome foreign tourists with hospitality.

"Some might not like foreign tourists to come very much," Kaneko said. "Although it's not our intention to change the people's mind-set, the major task of the new agency commissioner will be to attract many foreign tourists," Kaneko said.

The ministry is deliberating whether to restrict foreign investment in Japan's airports — an issue that Kaneko hinted he was still on the fence about.

Kaneko said the government needs to weigh the need to apply regulations the same way to everyone inside and outside the country against the need to protect national security.

Regarding Wednesday's inauguration of the Japan Transport Safety Board, which was set up to investigate and prevent air, rail and maritime accidents, Kaneko said, "We would like to make the new board helpful in preventing" transportation incidents.

As the minister in charge of road construction, Kaneko said it was important to continue building roads the nation needs. He said he hopes regional governments will consider their own needs when setting road-building priorities.



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