SENDAI – The number of multiple-entry visas issued over the past year to Chinese tourists traveling to the Tohoku region was notably low, a Foreign Ministry tally shows.
Based on provisional figures released Wednesday, only 1,330 such visas were issued between July 2012 — when the visa system debuted as a special step to boost tourism in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures — and the end of last month.
The low figure is believed to stem from safety fears about radiation from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, and strained ties over the Senkaku Islands row.
A Miyagi prefectural official said handing out visas isn’t a strong enough lure to overcome the “harmful rumors” that spread after the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami wrecked the plant. A further blow was the recent revelation that 300 tons of toxic water is flowing from the plant into the Pacific each day.
The government began offering multiple-entry visas to tap the purchasing power of wealthy Chinese to boost the economy of badly hit Tohoku, especially Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima.
Under the system, Chinese are required to spend at least one night in one of the three prefectures and can then enter Japan as much as desired for three years, with a maximum stay of 90 days per visit. They can stay anywhere in the nation from their second visit on, the Foreign Ministry said.
In contrast to the low number of visas issued for trips to Tohoku, some 32,603 visas have been issued to Chinese visitors to Okinawa since July 2011 under a similar program.