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Thousands Sit Exams on Historic City (February 18, 2005)

Candidates sit the exam on Kyoto (Jiji)
On December 12, 2004, nearly 10,000 people on three university campuses took exams on the history and culture of Kyoto, Japan's ancient capital. However, the exam takers were not aiming for any official educational or vocational qualification. Rather, they were hobbyists of a sort, whose love of Kyoto had inspired them to study the city and take the exams as a fun challenge. The exams were established by the Kyoto Chamber of Commerce and Industry as a means to generate more interest in this historic city. Those who passed will receive a certificate the size of a business card certifying them as "Kyoto Experts."

Candidates of All Ages
After the exams were announced, the chamber received 10,724 applications, three times the expected number. Fully 9,801 people actually sat the exams, ranging in age from 10 to 82. About a third live outside of Kyoto Prefecture. The exams lasted 90 minutes and consisted of 100 multiple-choice questions in various categories. The pass mark was 70%.

There were two exams: a level 3 testing basic knowledge, and a level 2 with more specialized content. A level 1 exam, with advanced scholarly content, is in the works for those who pass level 2. The results were announced in January and showed that 29.7% of candidates had passed the level 2 exam, while 42.5% had passed level 3.

Both exams covered a broad range of knowledge, from ancient history to the lives of ordinary people. The topics included: "The End of the Shogunate and the Meiji Restoration," "Shrines and Temples," "Festivals and Events," and "Lifestyle." Among the questions were some asking the candidates to identify the meaning of words in Kyoto's local dialect and one asking what vegetable people do not eat during the city's famous Gion Festival (the answer is cucumbers).

Although passing the exams leads to no officially recognized certification, employees of local taxi and bus operators and souvenir shops took the test to gauge and sharpen their knowledge of the city around which their livelihoods are based.

The project has proved a huge success for the chamber. More than 35,000 copies of the official test book were sold, and at one point the book was the number-one bestseller among the city's book retailers. Japan Travel Bureau (JTB) joined in by conducting tours offering glimpses of temples that are not usually visited by tourists and other cultural sites to exam applicants living throughout Japan. The widespread interest in December's exams has prompted the chamber to consider holding a session in Tokyo during the next round of exams.

The aim of the chamber in setting up the exams was to promote Kyoto. It expects the exams to cultivate greater interest in the city, which it hopes will translate into an increase in the number of tourists, particularly repeat visitors. Even without the exams, Kyoto has enjoyed rising popularity as a tourist destination in recent years. In 2003, 67 million people visited the city, up by 10 million from a decade earlier.

Exams All Around

The first exams of this kind in Japan were actually held in Tokyo, when the Tokyo Convention and Visitors Bureau held its Tokyo City Guide Examination in November 2003. More than 1,500 people have sat this exam in the two years that is has run so far, and 1,100 of them have passed.

The city of Sapporo in Hokkaido followed suit in October 2004, when the city's chamber of commerce held its own Sapporo City Guide Examination, which was passed by 250 people. In Okinawa, meanwhile, the Okinawa Travel Geography Examination, which can be taken online, was held in December 2004. Given the exams' huge popularity and potential economic spin-offs, more cities may join the fray, exhorting locals and outsiders alike to buckle down and study - just for the fun of it.

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Copyright (c) 2005 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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