The Japanese Embassy in Beijing hosted a tourism promotion event Friday targeted at local industry officials as demand slowly recovers after China ended its strict "zero-COVID" policy and reopened its borders earlier this year.

The event, attended by about 350 people including Chinese tourist agency and airline representatives, also took place as Japan awaits China's remaining COVID-19 restrictions including for group tours to be lifted.

Photo taken March 31, 2023, shows Okinawan "sanshin" string instrument performance at a tourism promotion event hosted by the Japanese Embassy in Beijing. (Kyodo)

The gathering featured a Japanese Awa Odori dance and Okinawan "sanshin" string instrument performance as well as sampling of the country's food and drink including sushi, rice cakes and sake. A tuna cutting demonstration drew a large crowd.

Japanese Ambassador to China Hideo Tarumi said he was "glad to host the gathering at a time when cherry blossoms are in full bloom."

Earlier this year, China reopened its borders and resumed overseas group tours but Japan is not among some 60 countries which Beijing has designated as tour destinations.

Wealthy Chinese individuals can acquire multiple entry visas valid for up to five years to visit Japan, but not many people hold those visas, tourism industry officials said.

Although the number of flights linking Japanese and Chinese cities has been gradually recovering, airfares remain high compared with the level before the start of the pandemic in 2020, they noted.

An official of Chinese online travel company Group Ltd. said many people have been searching for information about trips to Japan but that travelers still face inconvenience as direct flights from China are currently limited to major cities such as Tokyo and Osaka.

The number of Chinese visitors to Japan amounted to 9.59 million in 2019, but nosedived to 189,000 in 2022, down 98 percent compared with the 2019 level, according to Japanese government data.

In February, Japan saw 36,200 arrivals from China, ranking it eighth behind travelers from South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, the United States, Thailand, Vietnam and Australia.