BEIJING (CHINA DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Travel Frog gamers are straining at the leash to visit Japan after seeing photos of the country and snacks their virtual baby frog brought back.
China's biggest online travel agency, Ctrip, reports a 150 per cent growth in the number of searches for Japan on its website since the online game craze swept the mainland.
Individual travel bookings through Ctrip to Nagoya have more than doubled month-on-month. Bookings to Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe also surged by 80 per cent, while those to Kagoshima and Fukuoka grew by 50 per cent.
Osaka turned out to be the most popular "frog" destination among Chinese travellers, followed by Tokyo, Nagoya, Hokkaido, Fukuoka, Kyoto, Aomori, Kumamoto, Kobe and Kansai, according to Ctrip.
The game by Japanese company Hit-Point has unexpectedly hit the sweet spot of the gaming industry in China, and is especially popular among young working adults, who want to unwind while having fun.
At the moment, Travel Frog has tracked approximately 20 million downloads at the Apple Store, according to the company.
Chinese contributed to about 96 per cent of all downloads.
Players get to prepare their frog for travel by purchasing food and camping supplies, and in return, the creature will come back with travel photos featuring authentic natural scenery and tourism hot spots in Japan, as well as local specialties.
The virtual frog has made its way to Kusatsu Onsen, one of Japan's three most well-known hot spring resorts, and Zenkoji Temple, which is the country's third biggest wooden structure dating back to 1,400 ago.
Nagoya, rebuilt after World War II, offers magnificent buildings and rich museum collections, which appeal to potential travellers.
Other highlights include the natural monument, Oirase Mountain Stream; a top 50 lighthouse in Japan, at Kagoshima; and Amanohashidate, which boasts one of the best natural views in Kyoto.
Travel Frog now offers photos featuring 10 places in Japan, and plans to cover more sites across the country soon, according to game developer Hit-Point.
The idea of travel on a whim, a travel philosophy displayed by the frog, appeals especially to young people between the ages of 10 and 30. The pet frog somehow acted out this desire in the younger generation, some of whom have been buried in studies and work, Japanese media reported.
The Chinese have been the biggest force in Japan's tourism market for three consecutive years.
Last year, Chinese mainlanders paid 7.36 million visits to Japan, up 15.4 per cent over the previous year, the Japanese Kyodo News reports.
They spent 1.69 trillion yen (S$20.2 billion).
Currently, Japan is the second most popular outbound destination among the Chinese for the upcoming Spring Festival holidays, right behind Thailand, according to Ctrip.