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Japan visitors rise to nearly 2 million in April after China eases travel curbs

FILE PHOTO: Pedestrians wearing protective face masks walk at a shopping district in Tokyo

TOKYO (Reuters) - Visitors to Japan rose to a post-pandemic high of almost 2 million in April, official data showed on Wednesday, benefiting from a relaxation of travel restrictions in China.

The number of foreign visitors for business and leisure climbed to 1.95 million last month from 1.82 million in March, the Japan National Tourism Organisation (JNTO) said.

Arrivals were still down 33% from April 2019, before pandemic travel curbs were adopted the next year.

China last month eased outbound travel restrictions that had cut off a lucrative flow of visitors during the pandemic. A record 9.5 million Chinese visitors landed in Japan in 2019, a third of all visitors.

But a full recovery is likely to take time because of a lingering shortage of flights.

"We foresee a continuous increase in the number of international flights from China as there has been an 11% capacity increase between March 2023 and April 2023," said Asami Chung, general manager of travel management company FCM Japan.

There were 108,300 Chinese arrivals in April, according to JNTO data, a 43% jump from March but still well off of 2019 levels.

Traveller numbers have risen steadily since Japan resumed visa-free travel for many countries in October. It stopped pre-arrival COVID tests for travellers from China on April 5 and scrapped remaining infection controls on May 8.

Tourism to Japan all but halted for more than two years during the pandemic until a gradual reopening starting in June 2022. Meanwhile the yen has weakened precipitously against the euro and U.S. dollar, making trips to Japan the cheapest they have been in many years.

"The weak yen is positively influencing travel to Japan despite the high cost," said Chung, noting that Tokyo still has the most expensive hotel rates in Asia.

(Reporting by Rocky Swift; Editing by Shri Navaratnam and Gerry Doyle)