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Japan-Update

Japan's Shiki troupe turns to e-subtitling with smart glasses

Multilingual service targets increasing number of foreign visitors

TOKYO -- In a move to attract more foreign visitors to its performances, Japan's popular Shiki Theatre will offer smart glasses that display subtitles in five languages, including English, Chinese and Korean.

The new service will be launched at Shiki's Hokkaido venue in northern Japan, where the theatrical company is currently performing the Disney musical, "The Lion King."

The Moverio smart glasses, made by Seiko Epson, use the company's silicon-based organic light-emitting diode display technology to make subtitles appear as if floating in air, unobstructed by the eyewear's frames.

Use of the glasses costs 2,000 yen ($18). Visitors can reserve them in advance or obtain them at the door. People with hearing disabilities can use them for free.

According to Shiki, few foreign tourists visit its theaters because all performances are in Japanese.

The company chose the Hokkaido venue to test the service because, in addition to the theater's relatively low ticket sales, Hokkaido is popular among visitors from Hong Kong and Taiwan.

If successful, Shiki may introduce the service at other venues.

Shiki has also upgraded its ticket reservation system to make it easier for foreigners to buy tickets. In December, it contracted with several foreign companies that run websites containing travel information about Japan. The subtitle service will be advertised on the websites, which will also offer online ticket purchasing.

Previously, anybody wanting to see a performance had to buy tickets at the door or via the company's Japanese website.

Access to musicals is limited in Asia. A South Korean woman living in Seoul is looking forward to the new service, saying that she knows of Shiki and wants to see a show. A university employee in Singapore is also eager to try the new service.

Some, however, are skeptical. One British resident in Japan said musicals are not something to be read.

Shiki Theatre's Hokkaido venue

Foreign visitors on return trips to Japan are increasingly seeking experience-based tours, and theaters are trying to meet the demand. Studio Alta, an entertainment company, opened a theater in Tokyo over the summer targeting this new market.

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