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Japanese visitors to Russian Far East surge as electronic visa program eases entry

JIJI

The number of Japanese visitors to the Russian Far East, including Vladivostok, is surging two years after Moscow introduced an electronic visa system for trips to the region.

The annual number of Japanese visitors to the Primorsky Krai coastal region in Russia’s Far East surpassed 20,000 for the first time last year. The figure, which was below 10,000 before the introduction of the electronic visa system, is forecast to double this year.

The administration of Russian President Vladimir Putin has been expanding the coverage of the electronic visa system in stages.

The move is apparently intended to attract businesspeople and tourists to improve the Russian economy, which has been hurt by Western sanctions imposed over the 2014 Ukraine crisis, as well as change Russia’s image of being a closed country.

“Japanese people have not been aware that there is ‘Europe’ near Japan, but that way of thinking is starting to change,” said Masato Nakamura, a travel journalist who will release a book about Vladivostok this month.

Young Japanese women enjoying walks, eating and shopping are noticeably increasing, said Nakamura.

Electronic visas are convenient as applicants can apply on the internet in advance, but entering wrong passport information may lead to boarding refusal. For electronic visa applications, applicants need to enter the same entry and departure points.

“There have been a series of cases in which people were fined on charges of attempted illegal departure after they entered Russia in Vladivostok and tried to go to a third country from Moscow,” the Japanese Foreign Ministry said.

According to local media, the Putin administration plans to expand the electronic visa system to cover the whole of the country as early as 2021. The visa system began covering Kaliningrad this month.

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