Some 170 Chinese nationals on tours to Japan have gone missing since the vacation tours were resumed in September 2000, transport ministry sources said Saturday.

The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport suspects those who went missing joined tours to Japan with the intention of absconding and finding jobs here, the ministry sources said.

From September 2000 through August this year, a total of 40,629 Chinese nationals visited Japan on 2,002 group-tour packages, according to the Tourism Department of the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry.

Of the total reported missing, all but one overstayed a visa, according to the department.

People with records of having previously been deported from Japan for violating immigration rules were also allowed to join tours, the sources said. Japan’s Foreign Ministry has requested that the Chinese government screen tour participants rigorously, the sources said.

Many of them went missing in the Tokyo metropolitan area. This year alone, Chiba Prefecture has reported 33 going missing after arriving at Narita airport or visiting Tokyo Disneyland, the sources said.

In September, a 40-year-old woman who had gone missing was found in Choshi, Chiba Prefecture, according to police. She had arrived in Japan in February on a tour from Shanghai and was arrested for allegedly violating the immigration control law.

Police learned that the woman had been deported from Japan in June last year for overstaying her visa. After returning to China, the woman obtained a passport in a different name to return to Japan. She told police that she joined the tour with the intention of fleeing as soon as she arrived in the hopes of earning money, the police said.

To combat the problem, the ministry will suspend Japanese travel agencies from handling group-tour packages for Chinese nationals for one month if five or more Chinese travelers on its tours go missing.

Under an agreement between Japan and China, residents of Beijing and Shanghai, as well as Guangdong Province, are allowed to join group sightseeing tours to Japan. Visas for such trips are limited and are issued at the Japanese Embassy in Beijing.

The number of Chinese nationals visiting Japan on tours has doubled in the past two years. Despite the problems, Japan’s tourism industry and local governments want the criteria for allowing Chinese nationals to visit Japan to be relaxed, given the potentially huge demand.

“We are concerned with the situation because the framework (allowing Chinese group tours to Japan) was started on the basis of trust between Japan and China. We are asking the Chinese side to deal seriously with the problem,” an official of the Foreign Nationals Affairs Division of the Foreign Ministry said.

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