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First Chinese family travels to Japan on 'family visa'
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On March 16, 73-year-old Qi Xuxuan and two of his family members left Beijing to start a six-day tour of Japan. The Qi family is the first recipient of Japan's new "family tourist visa" which came into effect on March 3.

Yesterday morning, the family was given a warm send-off at Beijing Capital Airport by staff from the Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO) and the China International Travel Service (CITS), the host tour agent.

The family plans to visit the Tokyo Disneyland, Hokkaido and other attractions. Qi's wife, Wang Yumei, who is a Japanese teacher, said that she had been to Japan several times but has never been to Hokkaido. "I have been looking forward to this trip for a long time."

Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda agreed the new visa measures during a visit to China last December, in order to promote exchanges between Japan and China.

"In the past, Japan's visa policy was strict and Chinese travelers had to join in a package tour with strangers. Group members often disagreed on which places of interest to visit. Now we can visit Hokkaido as a family group and I feel very happy," Qi said.

In 2007, the number of Chinese tourists visiting Japan increased by 16 percent to 940,000 people compared with the previous year, according to the Japanese National Tourist Organization.

Previously, Japanese tourist visas were only issued to Chinese tourists traveling with a tour group. From this March, a family group, with as few as two or three members, can obtain a Japan travel visa through designated travel agencies. The Japanese National Tourist Organization expects the new visa policy to accelerate the growth of inbound tourists from China.

"This is the first family tourist visa issued to a Chinese family since the new policy was introduced. And we have provided them with a completely tailored itinerary," Deputy General Manager Zhao Yuping of the Outbound Department of CITS told reporters at the Capital Airport.

"Since the new visa policy was announced, many people have been calling every day with questions. But the family group must travel with a professional team leader and be accompanied by a full-time guide, which means that the family must pay the cost of the extra two persons. It results in a higher cost and few families can afford a private tour under the new visa requirements," Zhao said.

Kashiwagi Takahisa, representative of the JNTO Beijing Office, said that the policy will go on trial for six months, after which the Japanese authority will make adjustments, and the visa policy will be gradually further eased.

(China.org.cn by Wang Zhiyong, March 17, 2008)

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