Chinese tourists sorely missed during cherry blossom time in Japan

Most Chinese travelers can fly to Japan without a negative PCR test, but with less than a month until the end of the season, tickets are hard to find and overpriced.

Photo from CFP

Photo from CFP

By LI Rujia


The 2023 cherry blossom season in Japan has already begun. Sakura blooms in Tokyo, and trees in Fukuoka, Nagoya, Osaka, and Sendai will flower soon. This year, cherry blossom peak season lasts until the end of April.

Out of the shadow of the pandemic, tourism in Japan is blooming again. Anyone who wants to is free to picnic among the cherry trees in Ueno Park and all over the city this year.

Disappearing landmarks

Cherry blossom season is central to Japan's tourism industry. In 2019, within a 20-day period, more than 60 million tourists enjoyed the spectacular, with more than 5 million from overseas. Together, these flower fans spent 300 billion yen (18 billion yuan, US$2.3 billion). Just under 10 million Chinese tourists visited Japan in 2019, about a third of all visitors.

And then there was Covid. In October last year, Japan opened its doors again to welcome overseas tourists, with high hopes for this year's blossom season. Since April, most Chinese travelers can fly to Japan without a negative PCR test. But with less than a month until the end of the season, Japan is still not on the list of countries permitted for outbound group tours from China. Tickets are hard to come by and expensive.

The pandemic has caused many familiar landmarks to simply disappear. The giant Ferris wheel in Odaiba, Tokyo has ceased operations and permanently shut down. Venus Fort in Odaiba and SEGA 2nd Building in Akihabara have also closed. Marui Department Store in Ikebukuro West Exit has officially ceased trading.

One of the favorite haunts of Chinese tourists in Japan has always been pharmacies. Prices are low, quality assured and a wide range of products are on sale. But in crazy pandemic logic, three-quarters of them are now closed for good. The Shinjuku Takashimaya drugstore once appeared in travel guides as a must-visit spot. Touts at the entrance would call out in Chinese to the passing crowds every day. No trace of the store remains.

Crowds of Chinese faces

Last year, less than 200,000 Chinese tourists visited Japan. For every 100 who showed up in 2019, only two arrived in 2022.

In the months after reopening, tourists were only seen mooching around the most famous spots. But by February, a large influx of foreign visitors had conspicuously entered Japan. Sensoji Temple is packed with crowds of Chinese faces.

However, room prices have increased by about 20 percent since before the pandemic. Rooms that could be had for 200 yuan during the pandemic are now more than 2000 yuan. Other prices are also rising. Non-food inflation stands at around 3 percent. Prices have risen for the 18th consecutive month.

As a high-consumption destination, cherry blossom travel is not low. cheap In 2019, the average spend of overseas tourists in Japan exceeded 8,000 yuan. As prices increase Japan's could seem much less attractive.

Sayonara, big spenders

In 2019, 31 million foreign visitors brought 300 billion yuan into the country, 7.3 percent of GDP. More than a third of that money came from China. In 2021, only a quarter of a million foreign tourists visited Japan. Although tourism has resumed, the main source of profit, Chinese tourists, are still absent.

While occupancy of the Asia Hotel at Narita Airport has reached 92 percent, the guests are mainly from Thailand and Vietnam, with almost no bookings from China. During the season immediately before the pandemic, Chinese guests occupied more than half the hotel’s beds.

Due to the low number of flights, although prices have fallen, ticket prices remain high. Before the pandemic, a one-way ticket on Spring Airlines' China-Japan route was 599 yuan. The current price is around 4,500 yuan.