May 2018

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Institute for Japanese Culture Experience and Education (IJCEE)

- Licensed Guide Interpreters with well-developed language skills offer Japanese cultural experiences -

This month, Close Up introduces the Institute for Japanese Culture Experience and Education (IJCEE) . The IJCEE is Japan’s largest organization of Licensed Guide Interpreters with about 1,500 interpreters. Since its founding in 2008, the organization has grown rapidly because of the development of highly fluent Licensed Guide Interpreters, who serve as instructors able to showcase Japanese cultural experiences. With the increasingly varied needs of foreign tourists and the growing attraction to Japanese cultural tourism, the presence of IJCEE has steadily grown. We had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Ryozo Yonehara, founder and president of IJCEE, about the organization’s activities and the trends in the field of Licensed Guide Interpreters.

President Ryozo Yonehara in the “Shiba-Koryu-An”,
a Japanese-style room designed to provide a Japanese cultural experience

We heard that your experiences as an official of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government motivated you to launch the organization. Is this so?

Mr. Yonehara

As an official of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government working with projects in the International and Tourism Divisions, as well as at the Tokyo Big Sight, I strongly felt there was a lack of programs to convey the beauty of Japan to foreigners, which in turn led me to establish the NPO. Though there were sightseeing tours on large buses for foreigners visiting Tokyo, Mount Fuji, Hakone etc., there were no tour packages for those wanting to explore Tokyo in greater depth or to experience Japanese culture. Though I promoted the need for experience-based tourism, it was not easily accepted for reasons such as, “Tokyo does not have townscapes like Kyoto”, or “There are not enough personnel”. Consequently, I took early retirement from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government in 2008 and aspiring to train personnel able to function internationally and to provide experience-based cultural programs, I founded the NPO. In the 10 years since its foundation, the IJCEE has grown to become the largest organization of Licensed Guide Interpreters in Japan with approximately 1,700 members, of which about 1,500 are Licensed Guide Interpreters. The IJCEE continues to work in pursuit of achieving the following two core values. Firstly, to increase the number of Japan enthusiasts who say, “this is a country I want to revisit many times”, by revealing the Japanese culture to visitors in a way that is easy to understand. Secondly, with foreigners valuing the culture of Japan, Japanese themselves become more interested and take pride in their culture which in turn leads to the development and promotion of Japanese culture.

Newcomer Training for apprentices
aspiring to debut as guides

Guide interpreter describing the manner to use Chozu
(water to cleanse hands and mouth) in a Shinto temple

Can you talk about the main activities of the IJCEE?

Mr. Yonehara

The IJCEE undertakes various training programs to produce first-rate guide interpreters. After passing the Licensed Guide Interpreter exam, the apprentices undergo: Newcomer Training to learn the skills and knowledge required to debut as guides; Guide Training to acquire the knowledge necessary to serve as guides in the Tsukiji area, attend a sumo match, and so on; and Japanese Cultural Training to develop tea ceremony guides, instructors able to demonstrate sushi preparation, among others. In these courses, top instructors who are members of the IJCEE, use original teaching materials gained from their extensive field experiences to assist in training expert guides. In 2013, an affiliate company to promote the many charms of Japan, True Japan Tour, was founded to develop and administer various programs to experience Japanese culture.

Your efforts are directed to train personnel who are well versed in the Japanese culture and proficient in a foreign language, correct?

Mr. Yonehara

The IJCEE has many Licensed Guide Interpreters who not only fluently speak a foreign language, but also possess an in-depth knowledge of Japanese culture, such as the Sado (tea ceremony), Kitsuke (to dress in kimono), Shodo (Japanese calligraphy), Kado (floral arranging) and sushi preparation. The training of Licensed Guide Interpreters in Japanese cultural practices enables them to perform a dual role, for example, to be able to serve tea as well as provide explanations in English. In this way, the IJCEE has found a solution to the high cost that comes with conventional Japanese cultural experience programs that involves contracting two people, an instructor and a Licensed Guide Interpreter. Incidentally, there are two types of guide interpreters. Short Period Guides who offer their services for a few hours, such as visiting the Tsukiji Market or attending a sumo match, and Full Period Guides who offer their services from greeting the client at Narita Airport to sending them off at Kansai Airport—a service that can last one to two weeks depending on the itinerary. For a guide interpreter to reach the level of a Full Period Guide, he or she must acquire an in-depth knowledge so as to respond to any question posed by tourists of various nationalities. To achieve this, it is necessary to first determine their area of expertise and for them to then gain confidence by accumulating Short Period Guide experience. The IJCEE offers various training courses enabling Licensed Guide Interpreters to gain new skills and improve their level.

Visiting a sumo stable during an early-morning practice.
Sumo traditions and etiquette are explained during the tour.

Experiencing the preparation of hand-pressed,
rolled and scattered sushi.

We understand that a new system regulating guide interpreters became effective in January.

Mr. Yonehara

Until recently, only those with a national license as a Guide Interpreter could offer guide services in a foreign language. However, presently, those without a license can also provide these services. This is due to the lack of guides able to meet the increasing numbers of foreign visitors, and to correct a situation that in reality was not functioning—even cruise ship guides and nature guides were required to have these licenses. Licensed Guide Interpreters are now classified as National Government Licensed Guide Interpreters, and a new qualification system has been established for Locally Licensed Guide Interpreters who offer their services in a limited geographical area. Changes have been implemented to improve the quality of Licensed Guide Interpreters, such as adding practical points to exam materials and requiring National Government Licensed Guide Interpreters to take periodic training. However, as with any type of scheme, it is always the constructive criticisms of clients that nourish guide interpreters to be real professionals. As for the IJCEE, in response to the modifications in the system, we will be training first-rate guides who convince our clients that, “high quality service is guaranteed if you ask for a certified guide”, and to raise the value of the Licensed Guide Interpreters.

The guide-interpreter can also dress a visitor in a kimono.

The tea ceremony experience in a Japanese-style room,
dressed in a yukata.

Can you tell us of any concerns you have with the activities of the organization?

Mr. Yonehara

We hope to provide more working opportunities for Licensed Guide Interpreters belonging to our organization. Of special concern for Licensed Guide Interpreters, is if they will have enough work during the low seasons. Although there is plenty of work during the high season, a person cannot be expected to keep the job as a means of livelihood if there is no work during the low season, even though it may be a marvelous job. The course of action to take during the low season is an important task, not only for the guide interpreter sector, but also for the tourist industry in Japan as a whole. We must consider adopting measures, such as attracting clients to the ski slopes in the summer and the beaches during the winter, and to maintain a steady flow of visitors throughout the year in order to stabilize the work opportunities available to anyone employed in the tourist industry. Another problem in Japan’s tourist industry is the shortage of personnel in restaurants and souvenir shops who are fluent in a second language. To resolve these issues, IJCEE is considering the possibility of organizing English classes to be taught by Licensed Guide Interpreters during the low season when there are few tourists. The English needed by personnel in direct contact with foreigners in the real world differs from the English taught in school but aligns with the practical English used by Licensed Guide Interpreters.

Could you talk about plans for the development of future activities?

Mr. Yonehara

Our goal to develop deeply rooted experience-based cultural programs to encourage repeat visits to Japan will not change in the future. Japan will host the 2019 Rugby World Cup and the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games. We would like to continue to offer attractive experience-based programs that tourists, coming to Japan to see the games and participate in programs in between games, will say “I want to come back to Japan for more cultural experiences!” Furthermore, we consider it the mission of the IJCEE to strive to increase the number of repeat visitors to Japan, even after the fever of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics cools down. We will look ahead and develop our future activities for tourists coming to Japan post Olympic Games in 2022.