BY ATSUSHI OKUDERA CORRESPONDENT
Chinese tourists arrive at Takamatsu airport (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
SHANGHAI--Japan's diplomatic missions in China started July 1 issuing multiple-entry visas to well-off Chinese tourists, enabling holders to visit Japan as often as they wish within three years.
The new visas are issued only to wealthy visitors and on condition the holder stays at least one night in Okinawa on the first visit to Japan after acquiring the visa.
The holder can go anywhere in Japan on the second and later trips.
Expectations are high that the visas will help Japan's tourism industry, which was hurt by the Great East Japan Earthquake.
This is the first time multiple-entry visas have been offered to Chinese tourists. Under the new visas, valid for three years, each stay can be as long as 90 days, a significant extension over the 15 days under the previous single-entry visas for individual tourists.
In addition to the obligation to visit Okinawa, the visas require the recipient "possess sufficient economic resources."
Although the government has released no definition of what it means by "economic resources," a travel agency that handles visa applications said it means an annual income of more than 250,000 yuan ($39,000) or equivalent economic resources.
That threshold is more than 10 times the average annual income in China.
Shanghai CYTS Tours Corp., a travel agency, said that, despite the restrictions, it had received numerous inquiries because the new visas allow holders to visit Japan as many times as they wish during the valid period.
Sources said that dozens of applications were filed by travel agencies July 1 at the Japanese Consulate-General in Shanghai, which handles the largest numbers of visa applications.
China Eastern Airlines Corp., which offers two direct flights a week between Shanghai and Naha in Okinawa, plans to double that to four flights weekly from August. Hainan Airlines Co. also will open a direct flight between Beijing and Naha on July 28.