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Aeon develops multilingual e-menu to entice eaters

Japanese retailer's restaurant unit aims to whittle down language barrier

Aeon is introducing, on a trial basis, multilingual electronic menus for select restaurants to simplify ordering for foreign tourists in the country.

TOKYO -- Japanese retail giant Aeon has started operating a new electronic menu system at some restaurants on a trial basis to better serve foreign customers ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics and Paralympics.

Special tablets deployed at select eateries of Aeon Eaheart automatically change the language of the menu based on the customer's nationality. Aeon Eaheart is the retailer's restaurant subsidiary and is based in the city of Chiba, Chiba Prefecture, just east of Tokyo. 

Trials of the multilingual electronic menu system are also underway at Aeon Eeheart's restaurants in the city of Narita, which is home to Narita International Airport. 

To switch the menu's language, all customers need to do is pass an IC card or smartphone containing preregistered passport information, such as nationality, over the tablets. 

Aeon's move is in line with a campaign led by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications to expand omotenashi, as hospitality is known in Japan, services for foreign visitors using information and communication technology in the runup to the 2020 Olympics. 

Trial operations are a part of activities launched by the Omotenashi ICT Association, an organization established through a public-private partnership. Hiroaki Nishi, a Keio University professor, serves as its chairman. 

Aeon has various retail and service outlets under its umbrella. Through its trial operations of the e-menu, Aeon aims to make the system accessible to companies in a wide range of industries. 

The system uses the Catalog Pocket multilingual service developed by Morisawa, an Osaka-based developer and supplier of digital fonts. 

In addition to Japanese, the menu can be displayed in English, Chinese, Korean and Thai. Upon touching menu items, written explanations, which can also be read out, are given in the selected language. 

Individual restaurants can add information that is not on the original Japanese-language menu, such as halal certification for Muslims and how to eat certain items. They can also register answers to frequently asked questions on the tablet. 

About 200 foreign nationals who work as flight attendants at Japan Airlines are participating in the trials. They use IC cards at participating restaurants and ascertain the feasibility of the menus.

Aeon plans to partner with other companies to develop similar systems that can be used in a wide range of industries for other purposes, such as the provision of multilingual map guide services and the simplification of check-in and tax exemption procedures at hotels and retail outlets.

An IC card or a smartphone with registered personal data makes it possible for a business to provide sophisticated services tailored to each customer. However, organizers expect that some people will be reluctant to register passport information and other personal data. 

Japan is quickly working to commercialize various information and communication technology-based systems by 2020 while demonstrating how easy they are to use for foreign nationals. 

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