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Saturday, May 2, 2009

Kyoto tourists not panicked by flu


Staff writer

KYOTO — Concerns about the new flu were on the minds of tourists and local officials in the Kansai region Friday, as the ancient capital of Kyoto braced for the arrival of thousands of tourists from Japan and abroad over the Golden Week holidays.

News photo
Illuminating: Photographers snap a thermal camera system that monitors body temperatures during a news conference at Yokohama Arena, where the World Table Tennis Championships are being held Friday. AP PHOTO

At Kyoto Station Friday morning, busloads of Japanese tourists gathered around flag-waving tour guides, while groups of non-Japanese tourists with backpacks searched for foreign language information about local shrines and temples. Both Japanese and non-Japanese tourists said they were concerned, but not panicked, about the possibility of type H1N1 flu spreading.

"We've traveled to other countries that are always dangerous, healthwise. Many of the precautions officials are urging are the kinds of common-sense suggestions like keeping clean, eating healthy, and getting plenty of rest, things that anybody who travels should be familiar with," said Beth Ryan, a 25-year-old American who was visiting Kyoto with her boyfriend.

Her thoughts were echoed by Kazumi Yamanaka, 38, a housewife from Nagoya who was visiting Kyoto and Nara with friends.

"As long as people are careful and stay clean, and as long as they don't wait to see a doctor if they feel sick, I don't see any reason to panic," she said.

To prepare for the influx of tourists, especially foreign tourists, Kyoto has prepared information in English, Chinese, Korean, Spanish and Portuguese, and has set up a telephone hotline in these languages for foreign tourists who feel ill or who have questions about swine flu.

The information is available at the Kyoto Prefectural International Tourism Center, on the ninth floor of Kyoto Station, where English-speaking staff are also available.

"So far, we haven't had any foreign tourists come in saying they felt ill," said Mahito Bito, who works at the center. About 150 foreign tourists per day visit the center.

While there is no foreign language information at the center on hospitals, medical centers, or doctors in Kyoto who are fluent in foreign languages, those who call the hotline can get information about where such help might be available.

However, foreign tourists who have seen the precautions Kyoto is advising wondered about the effectiveness of several of the suggestions.

"We're advised to buy flu masks if we start coughing and to stay 2 meters away from others when coughing or sneezing. But just how effective are they, really in stopping the spread of disease, especially in an extremely crowded place like Japan?" asked Jay Madlock, a 21-year-old Australian who lives in Tokyo and is traveling around Kansai.



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