YOKOHAMA, Japan >> The Kamakura Daibutsu, or Great Buddha of Kamakura, attracts visitors from all over the world to Kotokuin temple in Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture. A local volunteer group is versed in multiple languages to help tourists understand the attributes of the giant copper statue.
On May 27, the Kanagawa Systematized Goodwill Guide Club welcomed a group of 66 people from countries including China, India, Mexico, Thailand and Vietnam. The visitors were divided into small groups and taken on a sightseeing tour featuring the Daibutsu.
For a group of Mexicans, one tour guide humorously explained that Kamakura’s Buddha is better-looking than another famous Daibutsu at Todaiji temple in Nara. One of the participants, Carlos Valadez, 27, said, “The guides are kind and fun and their explanations are easy to understand.”
The members also provide tours in Japanese for foreigners who want to work on their Japanese language skills.
The idea for the club dates back to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, when it became clear that few Japanese knew how to communicate with people from overseas. The club was formally established in 1989.
Currently, the Kanagawa club has more than 400 members, ranging in age from their 20s to 90s, who participate when they have time. Some members have lived overseas and others learn foreign languages as a hobby. Different members speak eight languages, including English, French, Thai and Korean. Members show their personality in their tours, using props and giving quizzes.
Shintaro Sawada, a 56-year-old member who has a good command of four languages and works in sales, is popular for his humorous tone.
“I’ll do whatever I can to make people laugh,” Sawada said, smiling.
At the end of the tour, the members and participants usually hold a meeting. Participants give feedback on how to improve their tours.
The guides and participants ended their day with sanbon-jime, a traditional Japanese style of clapping with three claps and then a pause. The participants were excited about their first experience with the unique clapping style.
The Kanagawa club is one of the largest among more than 90 Systematized Goodwill Guide Clubs across the nation that are registered by the Japan National Tourism Organization. In addition to providing guided tours, the group also introduces Japanese culture through activities, such as learning zazen seated meditation and playing a shakuhachi bamboo flute.
Foreign visitors to Kanagawa Prefecture are on the rise, with 2.44 million coming to the prefecture in 2017, up by 1.38 million from five years earlier, according to the prefectural government’s International Tourism Division.
Meanwhile, the prefecture still faces some challenges such as arranging an accommodating envimproving signage, as many visitors from overseas say they cannot read maps posted in public places.