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Pinning Hopes on the Bullet Train

Jun Takahashi

People in the northern island of Hokkaido want a bigger slice of the spoils from Japan's tourism boom. They're pinning their hopes on a new Shinkansen bullet train link from Tokyo that opens next year.

Japan has become a hotspot for international travelers. In the first 10 months of this year, more than 16 million people have arrived from overseas.

Many travelers tour the country with the help of the Japan Rail Pass. It offers unlimited rides for up to 3 weeks on trains run by the Japan Railway company. It's only available to people outside Japan.

More than 600,000 tourists bought the pass in the fiscal year that ended in March. That's a 40% increase from the year before.

A Portuguese traveler is using the pass to go to Hokkaido. He says he wanted to see the landscape and enjoy the nature, the wine, and the food. He'll save about $140 with the pass. He says he'll put the money toward sightseeing instead.

But he has to take 2 trains to get from Tokyo to his destination. The trip will take about 6 hours. Travelers like him will be able to cut their travel time to just 4 hours next March when a new bullet train line opens.

The shorter travel time is expected to boost tourism.

Yoshihide Taniguchi of the Japan National Tourism Organization says, "Tourists are likely to stay longer in Hokkaido, so they're able to spend money and perhaps even extend their trips and to go elsewhere."

In Hakodate city, near one of the new shinkansen stations, officials created a map showing foreign tourists where to find free Wi-Fi. The city is hoping travelers will get online during their visit and generate buzz about the region.

Kazuto Takemura of the Hokkaido Shinkansen Promotion Organization says, "We'd like foreigners to play a greater role in promoting travels to our city."

Another city close to Hakodate is also keen to attract more travelers.

A local government agency organized a tour for foreigners who live in Japan. The organizer wanted to find out which places and activities are most interesting to people from abroad.

Participants said historic buildings and cultural assets have a strong appeal. A French tour participant said the place is amazing because it kept a lot of old buildings and the culture is nice.

Residents of Hokkaido are getting ready to welcome as many of foreign tourists as possible. They'll be waiting to greet them as soon as they step off the train.

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