The Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) said on July 23 that foreign visitors to Japan increased by 26.4 percent in the first half of 2014, among which Chinese mainland tourists surged by 88.2 percent, amounting to about 1 million.
This means it ranks third. Considering the fact that this year marks the 120th anniversary of the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-95) and the fact that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe keeps disrupting the Sino-Japanese political relationship, the new revelation raises an interesting question as to why Chinese mainland tourists to Japan have increased dramatically under such circumstances.
Politics is one thing, but people-to-people exchanges are another. The data released by the JNTO has clearly shown the attitudes of ordinary Chinese to Japan. Although curses against Japan can be heard all the time in Chinese public opinion, the bulk of the Chinese population still has diverse views on this neighboring country.
From a political perspective, the rising nationalism in Japan makes the country a major force trying to hinder China's rejuvenation.
In addition, the Japanese government stubbornly clings to a wrongheaded position on historical issues, so China's antipathy toward Japan in political terms will remain.
But Chinese people, especially the intelligentsia, admire Japan's achievements in a lot of fields, such as environmental protection, food safety, social order and education. Japan remains a role model for China in these domains, and it will continue to be so even when both countries engage in intense confrontations.
It must be noted that the number of Japanese tourists visiting the Chinese mainland has declined according to the half-year survey. It seems that Japanese public opinion toward China is even more complicated and intense than that of China toward Japan. Their negative understanding about China shows their lack of confidence.
International relations have gone beyond the old days when there were only allies and enemies. Pragmatism has become the golden rule. Public opinion can easily be led by the strongest emotions, but society does not always cater to what public opinion and politics desire.
Some people said the surge in Chinese mainland tourists reflects the maturity of Chinese society. In fact, China has embraced social diversity for a long time, ever since the reform and opening-up was initiated.
But it is still possible that the surge might reverse, at least temporarily, given the possibility that the Sino-Japanese relationship will deteriorate rapidly.
The opening up of Chinese society has been given an added boost by the efforts of members of the public, and the rapid development of outbound travel has become a great opportunity for China and the rest of world to engage in deep integration. Japan is playing an important role in the process of China's rise. It cannot simply be defined as an enemy or friend.