Japanese foreign minister to Chinese tourists: Please come in droves

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Japan will relax Chinese visa requirements starting in July to increase tourism and boost the nation’s economy, Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada said.

“Please come in droves,” Okada said today at a press conference in Tokyo. “Once they come to Japan, we hope many of them become Japan fans.” The number of households eligible to visit will increase 10 times to 16 million a year, he said.

The government will lower the economic requirements for Chinese applying for tourist visas and increase the number of consulates in China accepting applications to seven from three, Okada said. He declined to confirm an Asahi newspaper report that the income level requirement will be cut to 60,000 yuan ($8,788) from 250,000 yuan.

The move may help Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s administration to reach its target of increasing the number of foreign visitors almost four-fold to 25 million by 2020. Hatoyama has declared overseas tourism as one of Japan’s growth engines as its aging population shrinks.

“In the medium term, this is an important policy that will give a positive impact on the Japanese economy,” said Mitsumaru Kumagai, a senior economist at Daiwa Institute of Research. “Chinese tourists spend a lot of money for souvenirs per capita.”

The number of Chinese who visited last year rose 0.6 percent to 1 million, while foreign tourists overall fell 19 percent to 6.8 million, according to the Japan National Tourism Organization.