• Kyodo

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A group of 95 Chinese arrived at Narita airport on Wednesday for a nine-day tour of Japan, the first package tour from China authorized by the Japanese government.

Several dozen people with Chinese flags and banners were at the airport to welcome the tourists.

Until recently, Japan had refused to issue tourist visas to Chinese on the grounds that opening the door to Chinese tourists could lead to a flood of illegal immigrants.

Tokyo relaxed the ban at the beginning of this month after two years of negotiations with China. However, it still imposes strict conditions on Chinese travel agencies organizing the tours.

To ensure the Chinese tourists return home after visiting Japan, Chinese travel agencies require a 50,000 yuan (about 640,000 yen) deposit from each traveler.

“Having been welcomed so warmly, I can feel the kindness of Japanese people. I am looking forward to traveling around the country because I hear Japan is beautiful,” said Wang Sibo, a 78-year-old Beijing resident who is visiting Japan for the first time.

The tour marks the official opening of Japan to individual Chinese traveling as tourists. Up to now, visas have been limited to those for visiting relatives, studying or pursuing commercial purposes.

Officials of the Tokyo-based tour organizer Tobu Travel Co. said they do not expect the number of Chinese tourists to increase sharply over the next couple of years because the Japanese government is restricting the annual number to 5,000. The firm, however, estimates the potential demand in China to be huge.

Japanese tourism officials in Beijing said the tour participants are affluent Chinese who have previously traveled to Europe and the U.S.

The tourists who left for Japan on Wednesday are mostly managers at foreign-owned companies, owners of private businesses and government employees, and range in age between 7 and 82.

The tour, which cost up to 17,800 yuan (about 230,000 yen) per person, will include stops in Tokyo, Hakone in Kanagawa Prefecture, Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka and Nagasaki.

According to Japanese officials, tourist visas to Japan will be limited to residents of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangdong Province for the time being, but may be extended to other regions in the future.

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