June 17, 2014 12:00 pm JST

Japan to double duty-free shops nationwide to 10,000 in tourism boost

TOKYO (Kyodo) --  Japan decided Tuesday to double the number of duty-free shops nationwide to around 10,000 in line with the government's efforts to increase foreign visitors by the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

     The strategy to expand duty-free shops, most of which are located in major cities, is part of the country's revised action plan containing a set of measures aimed at boosting the annual number of foreign tourists to 20 million.

     "Japan has many products and attractions to offer to tourists in various parts of the country," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said at his office during a ministerial meeting on tourism promotion where the revised action plan was finalized.

     The government hopes that shops in the countryside will be encouraged to apply for relevant permission to sell duty-free items, after its rule limiting the duty-free items to electrical appliances and fashion goods is abolished in October, officials said.

     This means that all items, including food, alcohol and cosmetics, will now be sold duty-free.

     The action plan also calls for promoting low-cost homestays on farms by providing information on the Internet in several languages about host farms, given that so-called "farmstays" are particularly popular among low-budget travelers.

     The government will also urge travel agencies and railway operators to offer countryside tour packages.

     Japan also wants the Tohoku region in its northeast, which was heavily affected by the March 2011 earthquake-tsunami and nuclear crisis, to feel the positive economic effects of the Tokyo Olympics through tourism.

     Under the plan to make Japan a tourism-oriented country, Japan will also waive visas for tourists from Indonesia, looking at the success of waiving visas for tourists from Thailand and Malaysia last year, which helped increase the number of travelers from these countries.

     As for Vietnam and the Philippines, Japan will make it easier for tourists to come, such as by simplifying visas for those who participate in designated travel tours, according to the plan. Japan will continue discussing visa waivers for the two Southeast Asian nations.

     The government decided to revise the action plan it created in June 2013 after achieving its target of attracting an annual 10 million foreign tourists in 2013 and after Tokyo won its bid to host the 2020 Olympics in September last year.