The automated translator will debut in April at all 20,000 or so post offices run by the Japan Post Holdings mail services unit. It will convert English, Chinese and South Korean to Japanese and back. An app on a post office tablet device will accept spoken input and render translations, including for industry terms and the names of such services as Yu-Pack parcel shipping.
The system includes a translation engine from the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology. Post offices in popular tourist areas may use it to offer sightseeing information as well.
Related investment will be limited to development spending, since the post offices already use tablets in a service launched last year for keeping an eye on seniors living alone.
With more tourists shipping souvenirs back home from post offices in Japan, the company seeks to further fuel the momentum by removing language barriers. It also will improve services for foreigners working for Japanese companies in such areas as facilitating account setup and remittances.
Separately, the company will offer temporary luggage storage from this March in areas popular with tourists. For 300 yen to 600 yen (US $2.70 to $US5.40), travelers will check luggage at a post office. They will confirm space availability, make reservations and pay, all by smartphone.
Coin-operated lockers and luggage-checking facilities around major train stations and tourist attractions often fill up. Post offices in such prime locations will offer open space to hold luggage.
The company will also deliver luggage to travelers' hotels or next destinations via Yu-Pack. The fee for a suitcase will be 1,000 yen to 2,000 yen.
Japan Post has been brainstorming ways to have its huge network of post offices do more than deliver the mail and serve as branches of Japan Post Bank and Japan Post Insurance.
As the government seeks to increase Japan's visitor count from about 28 million last year to 40 million in 2020, encouraging trips off the beaten big-city path is one challenge. Post offices throughout the country could help draw more travelers to smaller localities when their foreigner-friendly services become widely known.
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