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Japan surpasses Thailand to top China’s Golden Week travel list | The Asahi Shimbun: Breaking News, Japan News and Analysis

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The weak yen is luring Chinese tourists back to Japan, which polls show will be the most popular destination country during China’s upcoming national holidays in early May.

According to Ctrip, China’s largest online travel agency, Japan beat Thailand and South Korea in attracting Chinese tourists during China’s five-day Golden Week holidays, which start on May 1.

On Airbnb, a homestay booking platform, Japan was also the most searched for destination among Chinese users this spring.

On both platforms, Thailand held the top spot for the Chinese New Year holidays in February.

Japan’s surge in popularity this spring was driven by the combination of the cherry blossom season and the weak yen.

A visa agent in Shanghai targeting visitors to Japan said that inquiries have increased since March.

“The visa screening process, which was tightened during the COVID-19 pandemic, has also returned to normal,” the agent said. “Japan has always been a popular destination, and the flights during the holidays are almost full.”

Chinese tourists, who accounted for 30 percent of all visitors to Japan before the pandemic, have been slow to return even after the ban on group tours from China was lifted in the summer of 2023.

Even in February, when the overall number of visitors to Japan exceeded pre-pandemic levels, the number of Chinese visitors remained just 63.5 percent of those from the same month in 2019, according to the Japan National Tourism Organization.

That percentage stayed almost unchanged at 65.4 percent, or 452,400 Chinese visitors, in March.

It is believed that Chinese tourists have instead been traveling to Southeast Asian countries, particularly Thailand, which has waived visa requirements for short-term Chinese visitors.

Even so, the Consulate-General of Japan in Shanghai remains optimistic.

“The number of visas issued is increasing and is gradually returning to pre-pandemic levels,” said a consulate official, noting that many repeat visitors who have previously visited Kyoto, Nara and other well-known destinations are now venturing into regional cities.

The official attributed Japan’s continued popularity to the favorable exchange rate and the presence of these repeat visitors.

On Ctrip’s list of most popular holiday destinations for Chinese tourists, Japan was followed by Thailand, South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, the United States, Indonesia, Australia, France and Vietnam, in that order.

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