Weak yen, easier visas seen boosting enthusiasm
Japan has become an increasingly popular destination among Chinese tourists and is competing strongly with South Korea to attract affluent travelers from the Chinese mainland, analysts and industry insiders told the Global Times on Monday.
The number of Chinese tourists visiting Japan surged in March and the number is expected to rise further in April, as the two months are the best time to see Japan's signature springtime attraction of cherry blossom trees, according to travel agents.
"Our tour groups scheduled to set off for Japan before mid-April have been booked out since the beginning of March," a travel agent surnamed Wu at Beijing-based travel agency Beichen Tour told the Global Times on Monday.
Wu said that there has been an obvious increase of Chinese tourists to Japan since the beginning of this year and it is now so popular that "Beichen Tour's local partners in Japan cannot find enough hotels for our clients."
Huge numbers of Chinese tourists went to Japan during the three-day Qingming Festival holidays, hoping to do some cherry blossom sightseeing.
Major tourist attractions now provide services in Chinese, such as offering maps and introductions in Chinese, according to Tian Hong, the Global Times correspondent in Japan.
In March, around 268,000 Chinese tourists visited Japan, a 250 percent increase year-on-year. And in the first quarter this year, a total of 690,000 Chinese tourists went to Japan, compared with 1.52 million for the whole of 2014, according to a report on the Nikkei newspaper's Chinese website on Friday.
The report also noted that given the rise of Chinese tourists to Japan, the Japanese Embassy in China has run out of the standard travel visa paper, which is decorated with images of cherry blossoms and Mount Fuji, so the embassy has had to issue more ordinary-looking visas.
Japan has always been a popular destination for Chinese tourists because of its large number of tourist attractions and its mature tourist environment, analysts said.
The Japanese government also made it easier for Chinese tourists to apply for visas in January, which is a major factor behind the surge in visits to the country.
The recent devaluation of the Japanese yen is also an important reason for Chinese tourists to visit Japan as they are more eager to go "shopping for quality Japan-made products," Liu Simin, deputy secretary-general at the Beijing Tourism Society, told the Global Times on Monday.
Media reports earlier this year said that products such as smart toilet seats and rice cookers made in Japan have become increasingly popular among Chinese tourists, with some shopping malls in Japan selling out of the products during the seven-day Spring Festival holidays in February.
Around 109 million Chinese tourists traveled overseas in 2014, according to a report from travel information provider qyer.com in March.
Not including tour groups, outbound travelers from China spent around 8,000 yuan each in 2014, the report said, with shopping accounting for 28 percent of the average expenses, the second-largest item of expenditure after transportation, which accounted for 37 percent of total expenses.
South Korea has also been a popular destination for Chinese tourists during the past few years, given its proximity to China and its Chinese-friendly travel and shopping environment.
But some media reports have said that the growing interest in Japan may draw Chinese tourists away from South Korea.
However, "the increasing popularity of Japan will not necessarily result in a reduction in the number of tourists to South Korea, because China's overall outbound tourist market still has great growth potential and the two countries offer different attractions to tourists," Liu noted.