Tourism between China and Japan remains stagnant because of the political standoff over the Diaoyu Islands dispute, though about 2,200 tourists visited the island nation on a cruise ship and returned to Shanghai on Tuesday.
Those 2,200 tourists, who departed from Shanghai on Thursday, formed the largest Chinese group visiting Japan since the political standoff erupted in September. Their trip sparked an online controversy because many netizens called for a tourism boycott of the island nation.
Passengers on board, estimated at 1,500 individuals and 700 in groups, have been criticized by some as “traitors” and “putting personal pleasure ahead of national pride”.
In Japan, the Kumamoto government gave a warm reception to the Chinese group, with local high school students holding banners reading “welcome” in Chinese and the mayor giving flowers to representatives of tourists, the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper reported.
Neither Costa Cruises China, the Italian company that owns and operates the 75,200-ton vessel that took the passengers on a six-day cruise to South Korea and Japan, nor the Shanghai Jinjiang Travel Agency, one of the tour’s organizers, would comment.
But the passengers have said they won’t take the online criticism seriously.
“Before we departed, we were worried about the intense relationship, fearing we’d be treated coldly in Japan,” a 51-year-old businessman from Shanghai said on condition of anonymity.
“But we never realized that while we enjoyed a great time in Japan, we were being criticized back in our home country,” said the businessman, who paid 14,000 yuan ($2,240) to take his wife on their first trip to Japan.
He said that the trip was arranged three months ago, and when the standoff arose, the couple did think about canceling the trip, and the travel agency promised to fully reimburse them. But they eventually decided to go on the trip.
“I am glad we made the trip,” he said.
But not everyone thinks like him.
The Japanese Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism said on Saturday that half of the Chinese tour groups to Japan have canceled since the standoff broke out, and 122 flights a week were canceled between the two countries, 101 of them suspended by China.
Ge Lei, the national marketing director of China CYTS Tours Holding Co, a major travel service provider in China, said on Tuesday that group tours to Japan have ground to a halt since September, and it is “mainly a choice made by the public”.
“There has been a sharp decline in interest in Japan among Chinese tourists, who we believe are expressing their discontent with the Japanese government by boycotting travel there We suspended sending tour groups to the country,” he said.
But Ge added that people from southern and coastal cities like Shanghai, Hangzhou and Guangzhou are more “open-minded and all-embracing” compared with those in northern China, “perhaps due to their rather frequent exchanges with foreign countries”.
In a related development, China’s budget carrier Spring Airlines began offering free tickets to Japan on its website on Oct 16 and gave away 2,000 of them. But the promotion was called off two days later because of widespread criticism from web users, who discovered that the promotion was sponsored by Japanese authorities.
Hu Shoujun, a sociologist at Shanghai-based Fudan University, however, called for the public to respect the choice of every resident and company, even when it comes to patriotism.
“Just because a Chinese person travels to Japan doesn’t mean he or she doesn’t love the country. Forcing others to hold an anti-Japan attitude is more terrifying,” he said.