NHK has learned that dozens of tourists from China have gone missing after entering Japan. They arrived among a rising number of cruise ship tourists, and it's a mystery where they've gone.
Thousands of Chinese tourists arrive in Japan by cruise ship. It's a type of travel that's especially popular among tourists who plan to splash out on shopping, because they can bring more baggage than they can if they traveled by plane.
Cruises to Japan used to be the preserve of the rich. But now, affordable package tours make it possible for the middle class to travel in style in floating hotels.
In May, a 57-year-old man from China went missing about 3 hours after arriving at a port in the western prefecture of Fukuoka. He was traveling alone.
Police and others think he may have taken part in the tour to enter Japan illegally.
In Nagasaki, southwestern Japan, 3 Chinese men in their 40s disappeared last October after they arrived at the port there on board a cruise ship.
Police and coast guard officials searched for them and found a map of Japan that the Chinese government blocks online access to.
According to the police, immigration and coast guard officials, 22 Chinese cruise-ship travelers disappeared from last July through May after reaching Japan.
In January last year, Japan started allowing cruise ship travelers to enter the country without visas under certain conditions, including a limited duration of stay. The move came amid a rise in the number of Chinese traveling to Japan.
In the past, when Chinese tourists entered Japan via cruise liners, they needed to obtain a visa from the Japanese Embassy or consulates in China.
Cruise ship operators apply for entry permission on behalf of the travelers, after confirming their identities. And immigration authorities no longer take photos of foreign tourists who arrive on board vessels.
The police suspect an organization that arranges illegal immigration may be behind the disappearances.
Japanese authorities are concerned about what seems to be a new way of smuggling people into the country by taking advantage of relaxed visa regulations for foreign tourists.