Taiwanese tourists may soon be allowed to drive in Japan as Japanese transportation authorities consider recognizing Taiwan's international driver's license, local media reported on Tuesday.
Japan has not recognized Taiwan's international driver's license because Taiwan is not a member of the 1949 Convention on Road Traffic.
According to a report in the Liberty Times (the Taipei Times' sister newspaper), Japanese Minister of Land, Infrastructure and Transportation Kazuo Kitagawa said recently that his ministry "will work towards approving [the license] and will cooperate with police authorities on the matter."
Kitagawa's remarks came during a recent meeting with Harumi Takahashi, governor of the popular tourist destination of Hokkaido. Takahashi requested that the transportation ministry recognize Taiwan's international driver's license to promote tourism in Hokkaido, which is situated in northern Japan.
Hokkaido's public transport network is not as developed as those in other parts of Japan and private vehicles are an important means of local transport.
According to Hokkaido tourism statistics, of the 427,000 foreign tourists visiting Hokkaido in 2004, 209,000, or nearly half, were Taiwanese.
"Taiwan has contributed significantly to tourism in Hokkaido. If the issue of the recognition of the Taiwanese international driver's license can be resolved, it is expected that Taiwanese tourists will bring even more economic benefits to Hokkaido," Takahashi said during the meeting.
Kitagawa said it was necessary to review Japan's ban on Taiwan's license, and that the matter would require further discussions with Japan's Foreign Ministry and the National Policy Agency.
It is understood that the Japanese Foreign Ministry supports the proposal, but that the National Police Agency is still evaluating the needs of Taiwanese tourists.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesman Michel Lu (呂慶龍) said on Tuesday that the ministry welcomes any moves conducive to improving Taiwan-Japan relations and hoped that the Japanese government would make the proposal a reality as soon as possible.
Taiwanese visitors to Japan have increased from 1 million in 2004 to 1.28 million since Japan granted visa-free stays of up to 90 days to Taiwanese tourists. It has been predicted that the number of Taiwanese tourists could increase by 20 percent if the international driver's license is recognized.
Although Taiwan is not a member of the Convention on Road Traffic, Taiwan's international driver's license is accepted in most EU countries, most states in the US, as well as in Singapore and South Korea.
Japan also recognizes drivers' licenses from France, Germany and Switzerland, which are not members of the convention.
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