The actions of politicians and the media have stirred nationalist sentiment and ill-feeling between China and Japan. If the rhetoric and reports of military manoeuvres were to be taken at face value, the casual observer could be excused for believing that tensions were on the verge of breaking out into hostilities. But what is said and done in the glare of television cameras is far removed from reality; the world's second- and third-largest economies depend too much on one another to let actions spin out of control. A better indication of Chinese and Japanese perceptions can be gauged from tourism figures.
Japan's nationalising of three of the disputed Diaoyu islands in September 2012 chilled ties with China and a freeze began when the far-right Shinzo Abe was elected prime minister three months later. He has since angered Beijing and Seoul with policies and actions that make light of Japanese war-time aggression and atrocities during the first half of last century. Trade and economic relations have as a result suffered.
Tourism also slumped, but the latest figures, for mainland Chinese visitors to Japan during the Lunar New Year holiday, show a dramatic rebound. Japan, the second most popular country to visit behind South Korea, issued 79,000 visas for group tourists last month and more than 30,000 for individual travellers, a tenfold increase on the same time last year. China's continuing sturdy economic growth and the weak Japanese yen helped, but travel industry surveys show that Chinese interest in Japan as a tourist destination remains strong and is rising. Fascination in Japanese culture, a love of the cuisine and desire to see the scenery is not affected by political rhetoric. Japanese are equally enthralled by all that is Chinese, if tourism figures are any guide.
The strong tourism figures paint a different picture of Sino-Japanese relations than that depicted by the political and media rhetoric. Such visits deepen awareness and understanding, putting pressure on politicians and diplomats. With repairing ties in mind, let's hope the numbers keep rising.