There is, finally, some good news this week for the Japanese tourism industry as the first large group of Chinese tourists prepares to visit the country after the devastating earthquake and tsunami of March 11.
Japanese news reports say that a group of 30 mainland Chinese tourists from the southern Zhejiang province have been cleared to visit the country from May 23, marking the resumption of tours which had come to a complete halt since March 11.
Japan's tourism industry has been brought to its knees since the twin disasters struck, with the Japan Tourism Agency saying that the number of Chinese visitors to the country alone had dropped by 50 percent, year on year, in April.
More than 1.4 million Chinese had visited Japan in 2010, according to the JTA, and more than 200,000 had arrived in the first two months of this year.
Overall, Japan saw overall visitor numbers for March this year level out at 352,800 - a drop of 50.3 percent year on year, which was the sharpest decline in tourism numbers ever experienced by the country.
A small number of Chinese tourists had apparently visited Japan during the May Day long weekend - with Japanese media saying they had been greeted by local officials and even treated to banquets in honor of their support for the country.
Japan's tourism heads were out in force at last week's Eighth World Travel Fair (http://www.worldtravelfair.com.cn/en) in Shanghai, where they announced such initiatives as 20 percent accommodation discounts for hotels in Tokyo.
"Most of Japan's regions are unaffected by the disaster, and we invite you to see the present condition of Japan for yourselves," Japan National Tourism Organisation spokesman Katsuaki Suzuki told the China Daily newspaper May 16.
Japan welcomed just over 8.6 million tourists last year - a rise of 26.8 percent year on year but numbers have tumbled this year following the disasters, particularly from the normally strong markets of Taiwan (down 18.3 percent overall through March), China (down 20.8 percent) and Hong Kong (down 17.9 percent).