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Staff writer

KUNMING, China — In contrast to the well-known tourist spots along China’s coastal region, Yunnan Province, located along the southwestern periphery, is rarely visited by Japanese tourists.

In an effort to change this, local governments and the tourism industry plan to promote the region as an attractive destination for visitors from overseas, including Japan, using the opportunity presented by its hosting of the ’99 International Horticultural Exposition here.

Late last month, Japan Air System became the first Japanese airline to launch regular direct service to Kunming. The carrier started making two round-trips a week between the city and Kansai International Airport with a 243-seat aircraft, linking the two cities in about four to five hours.

“The direct flights are expected to benefit the tourism industry both in Yunnan and Japan. The horticultural exposition gives us a new opportunity,” a top official of the Yunnan Provincial Government said.

From May 1 to Oct. 31, China will host the international horticultural exposition under the theme “Man and Nature — Marching into the 21st Century” in the Jindian (golden temple) district, about 4 km from the center of Kunming, the provincial capital.

Sixty-seven countries and 24 international organizations as well as other entities from the private sector and China’s regional governments plan to take part in the expo, bringing flavors from around the world.

The local government says it expects about 8 million to 10 million visitors to the six-month event, the second international horticultural exposition to be held in Asia.

Organizers especially hope the exposition will draw tourists from Japan, which sent about 1 million visitors to China in 1998.

“Last year, we believe that about 15,000 Japanese people came to Yunnan. We expect the number to grow to 150,000 this year due to the exposition,” said He Jianguo, a tourist guide at the Japanese section of Yunnan Overseas Travel Corp.

The 218-hectare expo site will feature international, domestic and corporate sections as outdoor exhibitions, as well as gardens on six specific themes, including bamboo, bonsai and medicinal plants.

As a part of its contribution to the outdoor exhibition, Japan plans to reproduce two types of garden landscapes within a 3,769-sq.-meter site — the traditional Japanese garden with a pond in its center and a floral garden with a stage where various events will take place during the fair.

In the traditional Japanese garden, stone lanterns and Japanese trees are arranged around the pond, while a bridge spans a stream near a “sukiya”-style rest house built by Japanese carpenters.

“The difficult part is not making the Japanese garden, but finding local plants suitable for it. We have not brought plants from Japan due to quarantine problems, except cherry tree saplings,” said Akira Matsumoto, a garden designer for Fuji Ueki Co.

One example is the difference between pine trees in Yunnan Province and those in Japan. Unlike Japanese “matsu,” which are often dwarfed, most local pine trees grow straight, making it difficult to create the right atmosphere with them.

Matsumoto’s team collected about 20 kinds of trees, mostly in Yunnan Province, while it brought “momiji” Japanese maples from Zhejian Province and stones for the garden from Dali, a city about 400 km northwest of Kunming famous for its marble.

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