China’s relations with Japan have been far from cordial in recent years. But apart from a dip in 2013—and only then mainly in group tours– Chinese tourists continue to flock to the Land of the Rising Sun in greater numbers than ever before.
In 2014, 2.4 million Chinese made the trip across the East China Sea, more than 80% more than in the previous year, according to data from the Japan National Tourism Organization. That was also around 70% greater than 2012, the previous peak in traveler traffic from China.
Experts say that proximity is a factor boosting Japan’s popularity—parts of China are closer to some areas of Japan than they are to Beijing.
Japan’s recently relaxed visa policies and more favorable exchange rates that make an afternoon’s shopping in Harajuku or Akihabara more affordable for Chinese, also play a role.
But so too, does an on-the-ground push in Shanghai spearheaded by the Japanese consulate.
“Getting lots of [Chinese] people to visit Japan is very extremely effective from a diplomatic standpoint,” said Hironori Ito of the Japanese consulate’s economic division in Shanghai. “So that’s why as a consulate we’re making efforts to promote tourism,” he said.
Typically, JNTO plays the lead role in attracting tourists to visit Japan, but in Shanghai, staff at the country’s consulate are taking that job to heart—arguably doing it with greater fervor than any other Japanese embassy or consulate around the world, he said.
The diplomatic mission, together with JNTO and around 70 entities—including the offices of provincial governments in Shanghai and other Japanese companies in the tourism industry—have formed the Shanghai Visit Japan Promotion Group with the goal of boosting tourism figures.
One of its aims is to encourage Chinese to visit less well-known parts of Japan.
Mr. Ito estimated that more than half of current visitors from China to the archipelago follow the so-called Golden Route from Tokyo to Kyoto and Osaka.
If numbers continue to swell, tourism infrastructure in those parts could become stretched to its limits, he told China Real Time recently. “So that’s why we’re trying to promote places that Chinese people haven’t really known before but that still hold charm for them,” said Mr. Ito.
Case in point: the southern island of Kyushu and its onsen, or hot springs.
To build awareness, the group has placed Kyushu-themed advertisements in public locations such as subways. It has also developed a series of pamphlets about the island and its attractions aimed at travel agents so that they can create package tours to the region.
While it’s hard to determine for sure whether it’s the product of these efforts or an easing in visa restrictions, the numbers of travelers from eastern China — where Shanghai is located — to Japan appears to be rising even more rapidly than when compared to the national level.
Around 456,000 visas for entry to Japan were issued by the Shanghai consulate to Chinese people traveling as part of a group last year, up from 232,000 in 2012, according to data from the consulate. In addition, about 265,000 visas were granted to individual Chinese travelers, up from around 68,000 in 2012.
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Article: Wall Street Journal