Chinese tourists arrive in Japan at the start of the Lunar New Year holidays

Plane loads of tourists from China and Hong Kong began arriving at Narita Airport near Tokyo on Saturday at the start of the Lunar New Year holidays.

Visitors pulling large suitcases and carrying snowboards could be seen at Narita, east of Tokyo, from early Saturday morning before they headed off for holiday destinations around the country.

Beijing lifted a ban on group tours to Japan last August which had been imposed in a bid to control the spread of the coronavirus.

Major airline companies say the number of inbound bookings during the holiday period is around 40 percent of the level seen in 2019, before the pandemic hit.

A man from Shanghai traveling with his family said they will visit Tokyo as well as Mount Fuji. He said he is looking forward to tasting some local sake as it's his favorite drink.

A woman from Hong Kong said this is her first visit to Japan, adding that she plans to go shopping in Tokyo's Shibuya district and travel to Mount Fuji during her 4-day stay.

Meanwhile, Lunar New Year celebrations began in Kobe's Chinatown in western Japan on Saturday.

The festival started with the sounds of exploding firecrackers to welcome the new year.

Then, there was a traditional mask-switching performance from China's Sichuan province as well as a Chinese-style circus act using hula hoops on a special stage.

This was followed by a lion dance to drive away evil spirits with dancers parading through the streets to the rhythm of drums and cymbals.