Island row hits Japan tourism to China

Japanese tourism to China is rapidly dropping off amid a territorial spat between the Asian economic giants that sparked angry weekend rallies in China, major travel agencies in Tokyo said Monday.

The decline in tour bookings to mainland China comes despite a strong yen, which has traded at 15-year highs against the dollar and boosted Japanese tourism to other overseas destinations, operators said.

Tour bookings to China "have stalled since late September", said a Nippon Travel Agency spokesman, despite the fact that until then they "had staged a V-shape recovery since the summer of last year".

Reservations for tours in December are down by about 10 percent from a year earlier, said the official.

Tourism to China had only recently begun to recover from the effects of major anti-Japan rallies in 2005 as well as other events, including a food-safety scandal, the 2008 Sichuan earthquake and violence in Tibet.

Another major travel agency said its bookings are down 15 percent for November and by 20 percent for December, saying: "Reservations for China tours have slowed while tours abroad in general have been rising this year."

The two neighbours have been at loggerheads since Japan arrested a Chinese fishing boat captain on September 8 near disputed uninhabited islands called Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese. The skipper has since been released.

Japanese protesters rallied on Saturday against China's claim of the islands, and thousands of Chinese demonstrated against Japan in several Chinese cities in tit-for-tat nationalist demonstrations.

Nippon Travel said it was worried about the added negative impact of the latest rallies in China, in which some protesters smashed windows of Japanese businesses such as an Isetan department store.

"We still don't know the repercussions of the weekend incidents, but we are concerned," the spokesman said.

Other Sino-Japanese exchanges have also fallen victims to the spat.

The education board of Funabashi city outside Tokyo on Sunday cancelled a friendship mission of 40 school children to its Chinese sister city of Xian, the day before their scheduled departure.

"We made the decision in order to give their safety the top priority," said Kozo Suzuki of the Funabashi board. Xian is one of the four Chinese cities that saw major anti-Japan rallies over the weekend.