China staged a massive military parade Thursday celebrating with fanfare the 70th anniversary of Japan’s defeat in World War II, but not all Chinese were glued to the spectacle: Many had fled, for Japan.

Japan was one of the most popular overseas destinations for Chinese tourists during a three-day national holiday through Saturday, travel agencies said.

“I chose this time to visit, because the government suddenly announced (in May) this special holiday,” said Yu Yong, a 40-year-old IT worker visiting Japan. “I heard that Japan is a very good place, and recently it’s a hot tourist destination.”

According to Ctrip.com International Ltd., 2,013 people across China booked trips to Japan through the company with departure dates between Tuesday and Thursday, up from 1,164 a year ago.

During the same period, the Chinese leading online travel agency said those departing from Beijing, where the parade was held, stood at 616, compared with 153 from a year earlier.

A 34-year-old public official, who gave only her surname, Zhou, said she would leave for Kyushu for four days from Wednesday with a tour package.

“This is the third time for me to go. Japan is one of my favorite places,” she said, adding that though time is limited for the “unexpected holiday,” Japan is near and convenient.

The tourism industry has attributed the strong popularity to a favorable exchange rate and relaxed visa rules for Chinese tourists. Other factors it cites are Japan’s geographical closeness, hospitality and safety.

And not to mention that shopping, from luxury items to daily products, at Japanese stores is at the top of their must-do list.

Yu, who is now in Japan for the first time on a six-day visit, said he enjoys seeing its cultural landscapes and eating good food.

He said it had been a good decision to leave Beijing around the time of the parade and that it has been worth seeing the many differences between the two countries with his own eyes. However, he said he agreed that the 70th anniversary should be observed at a state level — and by the rest of the world.

“We should not forget history, so as to prevent future tragedies,” he said.

Travel expenses to Japan are higher during summer, and a four-day tour costs over 5,000 yuan (about $800) on average, but there has been robust demand for destinations such as Tokyo, Osaka and Sapporo, a Ctrip official said.

The Chinese government announced the special holiday as part of a push to encourage more citizens to participate in nationwide activities commemorating what it calls its victory in the 1937-1945 war of resistance against Japanese aggression.

In the run-up to the parade in the heart of the capital, Chinese newspapers and television channels were dominated by stories about Japan’s wartime brutality.

Many of them also cast a spotlight on the Chinese people’s heroic acts in the war, if not playing up the Communist Party’s role in the conflict, even though the ruling party of the day, Kuomintang, held most of the military power in the country at that time.

Senior Chinese officials have repeatedly said the parade, held for the first time to mark the victory, is not aimed at the Japanese public at large.

Still, right up to the end, there was no convincing explanation from the officials as to why China had decided to hold the parade and other large-scale commemorative activities only for the 70th anniversary and not for the 50th or 60th anniversaries.

Almost all signboards and banners for the anniversary seen everywhere in Beijing reminded people that it celebrated “China’s victory” over Japan in the war.

Chinese people’s avid interest in today’s Japan is, nonetheless, another reality of the long history of relations between the two Asian countries.

The number of Chinese travelers to Japan in the first seven months of 2015 more than doubled from a year earlier to a record 2.76 million, according to the latest data from the Japan National Tourism Organization.

As demand for family trips to Japan was burgeoning during this summer vacation, Chinese visitors, who now account for the largest proportion of total arrivals, stood at 576,900 in July alone, the organization said.

Cruise ship calls at Japanese ports and flight connections between the two countries have been increasing, at a time when political relations between the two countries are also gradually improving.

“There is a holiday so I will go and have fun. I think the commemoration of the 70th anniversary and traveling to Japan are unrelated,” Zhou said. “Certainly, it would be better than staying in Beijing as many places in and around the city have restrictions and going anywhere will not be easy.”

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