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Mount Kumgang, a celebrated but up to now highly restricted tourist site in North Korea, will have its first Japanese visitors Friday.

The mountain resort has been open to South Koreans since 1998 and to non-Korean tourists since August.

A group of 11 tourists from Japan will board a South Korean cruise ship leaving Pusan, South Korea, on Friday.

South Korea’s Hyundai group, which organizes the tours, plans to ask the Transport Ministry for permission to run a regular ferry service from Pusan to North Korea via Hakata, the harbor in Fukuoka.

Hyundai obtained permission from North Korea in June 1998 to develop Mount Kumgang, which is situated just north of the demilitarized zone separating North and South Korea, as a tourist resort. It has had a virtual monopoly on the tours.

The Mount Kumgang tours follow two routes — one leaving Pusan and the other Tonghae on the eastern coast of South Korea — by boat to Chonchon in North Korea. Both last four days and three nights.

Once on Mount Kumgang, tourists can either choose a three-hour course highlighting waterfalls and gorges that are said to be magnificent, or a four-hour course that includes a view of the truce line in the demilitarized zone.

About 300,000 people have taken the tours so far.

The upcoming tours from Japan are priced between 68,000 yen and 180,000 yen. A Japanese-speaking guide will be on board the cruise, organizers of the tour said.

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