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Johor street market to become tourist attraction

JOHOR BARU: Johor is set for a new tourist attraction with the construction of a tourism commercial centre, said the Malaysian state's Chief Minister Mohamed Khaled Nordin on Saturday (Jan 13).

The B5 Johor Street Market in Tampoi is built on a 2.34 hectare site at a cost of RM80.47 million (S$26.81 million).

It is expected to be ready by the second quarter of next year, the chief minister said, adding that it would feature a range of local products.

"This latest development by Johor Corporation (JCorp) is located over part of Pekan Tampoi which in the early 80s and 90s was a small town and a popular public spot,” he said at the launch of the B5 Johor Street Market development.

Mohamed Khaled, who is also JCorp chairman, said B5 stands for Batu Lima (Fifth Mile) or Tampoi Town also known as Pekan Batu 5.

He said the design characterised by Johor traditional Malay architecture and latest trends, will involve five main elements - a retail bazaar, a box park, food trucks, food and beverage stores and a hub for Johor's cultural exhibitions.

With the combination of the five elements, the B5 Johor Street Market was targeted to attract more local tour operators, art enthusiasts, young people and food operators to operate under one roof, he added.

According to Mohamed Khaled, the B5 Johor Street Market, which offers over 168 retail space with job opportunities for 1,000 local residents, is poised to become an attraction for local and foreign tourists.

"When visiting certain destinations, most likely we will want to buy some local produce from there. It will not be complete if we go to Sarawak without buying the famous salted ikan terubuk or layered cakes.

"Based on this observation we decided on having the B5 Johor Street Market as a centre to market local products,” he said.

With the construction of the B5 Johor Street Market it would deny claims that the Johor development agenda was only concerned with mega projects when it had been the state government's aspiration to see more people involved in business, he added.

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Manhole spotting a new tourism beat

Bid to beautify Japan's sewerage system has resulted in so-called 'manholer' subculture

TOKYO • Japan's sewerage industry has found a way to clean up its dirty and smelly image: elaborately designed and colourful manhole covers with 12,000 local varieties nationwide - including, of course, a Hello Kitty design.

Appealing to a Japanese love of detail and "kawaii" - which means cute in Japanese - bespoke manhole covers adorn the streets of 1,700 towns, cities and villages across Japan and have spawned a hunt craze among so-called "manholers".

The designs represent an instant guide to a place as they feature its history, folklore or speciality goods: a castle design for an ancient town, a bay bridge for a port and Mount Fuji for a city at the foot of Japan's iconic mountain.

As for the city of Tama in the western sprawl of greater Tokyo, locals are pinning their hopes on a more modern Japanese icon - Hello Kitty - to attract tourists, alongside the town's theme park showcasing the much-loved character from Sanrio.

"We'd be happy if people come and take some time for a stroll in our town while looking for the Hello Kitty manholes," said Mr Mikio Narashima, who heads the city's sewerage system division, after the city installed the first of the 10 designed covers.

Veteran spotter Shoji Morimoto said his passion for covers was fuelled after noticing that the central city of Fukui sported two phoenixes on its manholes.

He later learnt that the imaginary birds were a symbol of the town's rise from a devastating US air raid in 1945 and a deadly earthquake three years later.

"I sometimes do research on why the town has that particular design," said Mr Morimoto, who coined the word "manholer" for like-minded people.

The 48-year-old has already visited all the designed manholes in his local area. "Now I have to travel far," he said. "It's treasure hunting for adults."

Manholers take pictures of the covers they visit, with the more obsessive fans taking rubbings.

For others, the interest lies more in "cover bonsai", plants growing on soil accumulated on and around the covers.

More than 3,000 people attended a "manhole summit" in western Japan last November.

To satisfy collector interest, the private-public GKP network, designed to promote awareness on the importance of sewerage in society, has released 1.4 million cards featuring 293 different covers.

The cards are free, but they can be obtained only through local offices, thus working as a tourist magnet. They are numbered in chronological order and come with the manhole's exact GPS information for the convenience of manholers.

"We believe Japanese manholes are cultural products we can boast to the world," said Mr Hideto Yamada, a GKP planning official.

The eastern city of Maebashi held a highly competitive lottery in October as its offer to sell 10 used manhole covers - 40kg of iron - at 3,000 yen (S$37) each was swamped with more than 190 bids.

The history of decorating manhole covers in Japan dates back 40 years when there was a bid to improve the image of the sewerage system, according to GKP's Mr Yamada.

Cover designs must have the same friction level, no matter which direction humans or cars come from, so that people do not slip on them.

This need for friction resulted in placing extra streaks of clouds, sea waves or tiny stars in the background, giving birth to "condensed designs", Mr Yamada said.

Overall, there are some 15 million manholes in Japan, of which only a fraction have colourful designed covers that have been carefully hand-painted.

A plain cover costs some US$600 (S$796) but a designed one can be double that, depending on the number of colours used and the level of detail used.

The craze has since spread online with abundant information on where to find the best manholes via the hashtag #manhotalk.

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Southeast Asia emerging potential tourist market for Kashmir

Slump in tourism notwithstanding, as many as 10,000 tourists from Malaysia and Thailand visited Kashmir in 2017.

With states based in South-East Asia emerging as potential tourist market for Kashmir, according to official figures 6100 tourists from Malaysia and 4000 from Thailand visited Kashmir last year.

Director Tourism, Mehmood Shah said the increase in tourist arrivals from South-East Asia “is a positive indication but lot more needs to be done”.

“Foreign arrivals in 2015 and 2016 were affected by floods and the unrest but last year we witnessed an interesting trend. South-East Asia has proved to be a major market for us. This has made us keen to attract maximum number of tourists from Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore,” Shah said.

Shah said no travel advisory by the Far-East countries has helped to attract maximum arrivals. “Even 1750 arrivals from Bangladesh were registered in 2017.

As per official figures 30,000 foreign tourists visited Kashmir in 2017. “In 2015, the figure was 28,000. Only 23,000 foreign tourist arrivals were registered in 2016 due to unrest after Hizb commander Burhan Wani was killed by government forces on July 8.”

Shah said among other foreign tourist arrivals to Kashmir in 2017 includes almost 1000 tourists from the US, 1000 from Singapore and 1000 from Great Britain.

Shah said the department is networking with foreign embassies in New Delhi for dilution of travel advisories.

“Several foreign ambassadors have been part of our tourism promotional campaign which has completely changed their perception about Kashmir.

“Ambassador of German visits us regularly while the Italian ambassador visits here for trekking,” said Shah.

Meanwhile, On March 9, PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry at its Delhi headquarters “will facilitate meeting of Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti with ambassadors of 22 countries.”

“Kashmir is the theme at this annual event which will provide a platform for us to showcase our state. We expect the event to help us remove the negative perception created by a section of media and encourage prospective tourists from across the world to Kashmir,” said Mushtaq Chaya, chairman, PHDCCI, Kashmir Chapter.

Travel trade players are also busy holding road-shows in countries abroad to woo tourists to Kashmir.

Association of Kashmir Tour Operators (AKTO) recently held a promotional event in Bangladesh.

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