Now visitors to Kyoto have an alternative to tourist maps and confusing signs. Charisma Navigation is the name of a new personal navigation system that helps people find their way around the ancient capital in Japanese, English or Korean.
In the latter half of 2004, the Kyoto Prefectural Government was approached by a group of companies who appeared to have a novel solution for the perennial problem faced by the city’s tourism promotion department – how to make life easier for travelers who don’t speak Japanese.
The system includes a rich database of tourist information that can be downloaded simply into the cell phone and browsed on its relatively large (2.4 inch) QVGA screen. At present, there are over 1,000 destinations registered in the beta-phase database, including natural and historical sightseeing spots, restaurants and bars, and other things to see and do in and around Kyoto.
And the Kyoto Industry and Tourism Bureau believe the device has the potential to triple the number of foreign visitors. The system uses a global positioning system-equipped cell phone together with online mapping technology to help users find places of interest.
Destinations can be searched by type, area or cost, or users can follow a preset recommended route designed to help them make the most of each day of their stay. There are even narrated previews of each route with photos of the various spots along the way. The system includes “EZ Navi Walk,” a pedestrian tourist’s equivalent of a car navigation system that gives detailed instructions based on one’s exact location.
Charisma Navigation is currently undergoing trials, and for the next three months is available for free. For a three-month test period, the Charisma Navigation cell phones are available free of charge (you only have to pay for any international calls you make!) for foreign travelers willing to try the system and complete a simple survey upon its return. Phones can be picked up at Kansai International Airport, Kyoto train station and a number of other locations in the region.
The Prefecture of Kyoto worked with mobile powerhouse KDDI to create a pocket device with a variety of features useful for visitors: “It’s the first time this kind of system has existed – combining GPS navigation with tourist information content, essential language guidance and the ability to phone an interpreter or for emergency assistance.”
And remember, in Japan, they don’t refer to it as “GPS”, it is “car navigation system”. In these new devices, the term “Passenger Seat Navi” has been coined to indicate that this is for the person in the passenger seat to determine where to go.