The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan (MOFA) announced that from July, 2011, citizens of mainland China can apply for multiple entry tourist visas to Okinawa Prefecture.
The visa’s term of validity is 3 years and the tourist can visit as many times as they like during this period and stay for a maximum of 90 days each visit. The terms require the traveler to arrive in Okinawa and stay for at least one night, after which they are free to travel elsewhere.
This will be a welcome change for Chinese citizens wanting to visit Okinawa and Japan. Up until now, individual tourist visas for Chinese citizens only allowed them to travel to Japan for a maximum of 15 days.
A long-term multiple entry visa may encourage some Chinese citizens to purchase homes or apartments in Japan for personal use. The previous 15-day visa made buying a holiday home in Japan unappealing for many Chinese as they could only stay for a very limited time.
Foreign tourist numbers fell sharply following the March 11 Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami, and the uncertainty about the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant continue to keep tourists away. Okinawa Prefecture hopes this new visa will help their local tourism industry, but the description of the visa Yahoo! China’s travel page focuses less on staying in Okinawa and more on visiting various areas across Japan. It remains to be seen whether Chinese tourists will stay on in Okinawa or will just stay for the minimum one night requirement and then travel to other areas such as Hokkaido.
Within one month of introducing the new visa, MOFA had received 900 applications.
In July, the total number of foreign tourists to Japan fell 36% from the previous year to 561,700, with visitors from China falling by 47%.
There are a total of 300 travel agencies in China who can arrange travel on this visa. 100 of those travel agencies are located in Shanghai.
Terms of the visa:
- Applicant must have a minimum annual income of 250,000 Chinese Yuan (39,000 USD)
- Applicant must provide proof of job and income status, bank account statement and current financial position (eg. real estate assets)
- A deposit must be paid to the travel agency*
- Most travel agencies require the tourist to travel to Japan in a group tour. They are free to visit privately on their 2nd trip, but private visits account for only 10% of travelers.
*The deposit is to deter tourists from overstaying in Japan. If a tourist is found to have overstayed their visa, the travel agency who arranged the tour may lose their license. The deposit varies depending on the customer and the travel agency but typically ranges between 50,000 ~ 100,000 CNY (7,800 ~ 15,600 USD).
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan Press Release (http://www.mofa.go.jp/mofaj/press/release/23/5/0528_02.html)
The Nikkei Shimbun, August, 29, 2011.
Japan Business Press, July 25, 2011.