TOKYO (AFP) - Japan's tourism industry is taking a 3,000-strong delegation to China this year, a lawmaker said on Wednesday, as Tokyo looks to capitalise on its neighbour's growing appetite for travel.
With ties between the countries beginning to thaw after a years-long freeze, parliamentarian Toshihiro Nikai said the May 22-24 trip was a chance to further improve relations.
"Everyone is hoping to see leaders from Japan and China shake hands. I believe this visit will help improve the current situation," said Nikai told a news conference.
Delegates will include those from the tourism and other business sectors, as well as officials from local governments and cultural bodies.
They are looking to capitalise on the rising number of Chinese travelling abroad each year due to rising incomes and the easing of restrictions on foreign travel.
China has been the world's fastest-growing source of tourists over the past decade and more than 100 million of its nationals are expected to make trips this year, according to the UN.
However, this year's Japanese delegation pales in comparison with past visits by the tourism industry, including a 2002 trip that saw a group of 13,000 visit Beijing.
Since then, ties have plunged to their lowest in decades over competing claims to Japanese-controlled islets in the East China Sea and Tokyo's 20th-century history of aggression.
In November, Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping met on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit for the first time.
Nikai is a member of Abe's Liberal Democratic Party.
More than 200 senior business executives visited Beijing in September last year on an annual visit that dates back to 1975 organised by the Japan-China Economic Association.