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By Mark Rabago Staff Reporter

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands---English is fine but in order to attract more tourists from its main market of Japan, local schools should include more Nippongo classes in the curriculum, said Marianas Visitors Authority Chair Dave M. Sablan.

He lamented the fact that only a handful of local residents have the ability to speak the Japanese language.

He batted for the incorporation of more Japanese language courses at the secondary level as well as at Northern Marianas College.

"My generation is probably the last to speak Japanese. After us, sadly, we would not have it any more. We need our school system and our college to begin teaching more Nippongo," Mr. Sablan said.

He argued that while it is natural for locals to speak English with the CNMI being under the American political family, schools should exert additional effort to teach the region’s "economic language," basically because the islands’ tourism industry is heavily dependent on the Japanese market.

Mr. Sablan also said that way back in the 1980s; the CNMI was very much preferred by Japanese tourists because the majority of the people involved in the tourism industry spoke Japanese.

"Those tour guides that used to entertain Japanese tourists are now elderly and the population of Japanese-speaking locals is slowly decreasing. We have no way of replacing them without the school system’s help," the MVA chairman said.

Visitor arrivals from Japan are the bread and butter of the Commonwealth’s tourism industry, Mr. Sablan emphasized.

To better serve the market, the CNMI should make tourists from Japan feel more comfortable on the islands and one way of doing that is speaking the language they speak, he added.

Over the years, more than 90 percent of the visitor arrivals to the CNMI have been Japanese nationals. In March alone, Japanese tourists to the islands numbered 35,184. The closest market, South Korea, only had a total of 3,491 tourists arrive in the Commonwealth.

In 1999, of the 501,788 tourists who visited the island, 380,473 were Japanese.

Saipan, the largest island in the Northern Marinas chain, was a territory of Japan from the end of World War I in 1919 until the conclusion of the Second World War in 1946.

For additional reports from The Saipan Tribune, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Saipan Tribune.

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