TOKYO – The Japanese government on Thursday relaxed visa rules applicable to Chinese nationals to encourage more tourists to visit and help boost the nation’s flagging retail sector.
In July 2009, Japan began granting individual tourist visas to Chinese nationals who earn 250,000 yuan (36,000 U.S. dollars) a year or more, but the conditions have been eased to encourage more Chinese people to choose Japan as their vacation destination spot.
“Chinese middle-class families with certain income level and employment status can also make individual trips to Japan, without joining group tours,” Takahisa Kashiwagi, executive director at the Beijing office of the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO), was quoted as saying recently.
According to the latest figures a further 16 million households in China will be eligible for tourist visas as the new criteria laid out requires individual to be earning 60,000 yuan per year, a significant drop from the former lofty requirement.
The number of Chinese visitors to Japan rose 36 percent in the first five months of 2010, from the same period a year earlier, to around 600,000 visitors and according to JNTO, Chinese tourists spend 230,000 yen (2,613 U.S. dollars) on average per trip, which is a massive injection of capital into the retail sector local economists have noted.
As the number of Chinese guests is set to rise, Japanese retailers are rolling out the red carpets in anticipation of increasing patronage from high net worth individuals.
To deal with an expected slew of visa applications, Japan began accepting applications Thursday at all seven Japanese diplomatic establishments in Chinese mainland — previously only three establishments accepted such applications.
In addition, Japan has expanded the number of Chinese travel agencies eligible to apply for visas on customers’ behalf from a mere 48 to a healthy 290.
To further encourage Chinese shoppers to come and spend, Mitsukoshi became the first Japanese department store to accept the popular Chinese debit card known as China Union Pay.
The card can also be used to withdraw money from Japanese ATM machines to add to the convenience.
The value of transactions by the Chinese debit card in Japan soared to 20 billion yen (225 million U.S. dollars) in 2009 from 2. 7 billion yen (30.5 million U.S. dollars) in 2007, according to a Mitsui Sumitomo Card survey.
The Japanese government aims to increase the number of foreign visitors to Japan from 8.35 million recorded in 2008, to 15 million in 2013 and 25 million in 2019.