China on Monday resumed overseas group tours for Chinese citizens after a roughly 3-year hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic, but the tours will be limited to 20 countries, with Japan excluded from the list.

Japan's tourism and retail industry had been hoping for the resumption of group tours from China as they comprised a major portion of inbound travelers before the pandemic, but the prospect of their return remains uncertain.

Travelers wait in lines on Feb. 5, 2023, at Beijing Capital International Airport. (Kyodo)

Beijing opposes Tokyo's recent decision to strengthen border controls for travelers inbound from China following a surge in coronavirus cases in the country.

The 20 countries approved for the resumption of the service by Beijing include Thailand, one of the most popular destinations in China, Indonesia, the Maldives, New Zealand, Russia, Singapore and Switzerland.

Yasufumi Yamada, head of the Shanghai office of the Japan National Tourism Organization, expressed disappointment that Japan was not included in the list of overseas destinations for group tours.

"We hope to welcome (visitors from China) soon," Yamada said, adding that efforts will be made to promote information about rural areas in Japan.

The Shanghai office held an event Saturday in Beijing promoting traditional towns and sites in Nagano, Ishikawa and Okayama prefectures.

Xu Yongli, a Beijing resident who participated in the event, urged Japan to relax its border controls and expressed his hope to soon visit Naraijuku, a historical town used as a lodging spot along what was a major route during the Edo Era (1603-1868), in Nagano Prefecture.

Japan had a record-high 31.88 million foreign visitors in 2019, with travelers from China comprising around 30 percent, according to the tourism organization.

During that year, Chinese travelers spent 1.77 trillion yen ($13.4 billion), making up 36.8 percent of the total expenditure of all inbound travelers.

But due to coronavirus pandemic restrictions that came into force in 2020, the number of Chinese travelers fell sharply. Despite Japan relaxing its border controls in October last year, travelers inbound from China remain at around 20,000 to 30,000 a month.

China reopened its borders and abandoned quarantine measures on Jan. 8, marking a full departure from its strict "zero-COVID" policy, although it saw widespread infections.

In response, several countries including Japan and South Korea have strengthened their border controls for travelers inbound from China.

Japan currently requires travelers from mainland China to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of departure.

In addition, all travelers from mainland China, including those who have visited the country within seven days, are required to take a PCR or high-sensitivity antigen test upon arrival in Japan. Those who test positive must quarantine at a designated facility for up to seven days.

China opposes Tokyo's measures, calling them unscientific and discriminatory.