Japanese travel companies fear Tokyo will stop issuing visas to South Koreans if Seoul carries out a threat to seize the assets of Japanese companies. Taro Aso, Japan’s deputy prime minister, said this week Tokyo was prepared to stop issuing the visas and ban money transfers to accounts in South Korea after a court in Seoul approved measures to legally seize assets belonging to Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal. The court wants the company to compensate Koreans who were forced to labour for its predecessor during the second world war. A number of court decisions have gone against Japanese companies and more are pending. The outcomes of the cases could lead to more compensation cases being filed in South Korea , as well as in other places invaded and occupied by Imperial Japan in the early decades of the last century, including mainland China, Taiwan and the Philippines. South Koreans account for about a quarter of visitors to Japan, according to the Japan National Tourism Organisation. More than 7.1 million South Koreans visited in 2017, more than from any other country bar China. “ Japan’s tourism industry thrives on making access for foreign nationals as uncomplicated as possible and anything that complicates the open access will inevitably hurt the industry and, as far as we are concerned, is not welcome,” said Colin Hackworth, director of the Nihon Harmony Resorts KK properties in the winter sports resort town of Niseko, in Hokkaido. US wants Japan and South Korea to tag team China. But history is in the way “I would estimate that only 5 per cent of the visitors to Niseko’s ski slopes are from South Korea, but we don’t want to start losing out to other places,” he said. Yuriko Araki, a spokeswoman for the Kyushu Tourism Promotion Authority, said the organisation was still examining the possible impact of new restrictions on visas for South Korean travellers, but said she hoped any changes would be minimal. Kyushu is linked to South Korea on a number of ferry routes, including to Busan, and welcomed 2.4 million South Koreans last year, she said. Paul Christie, founder of the Walk Japan travel company and appointed by the government as an “ambassador” to promote domestic tourism, feared the impact on those cities that had worked hard to build a tourism industry based on arrivals from Korea. “For a place like Kyushu, the tourism industry is quite heavily dependent on South Korea,” he said. “The city of Oita, for example, has one international route and that is a direct daily flight to Seoul with T’Way Air, which is a South Korean low-cost carrier, and the vast majority of their passengers are South Korean tourists. “If visa rules are changed and it becomes harder to fly to Japan, those travellers will go elsewhere and the impact on a town like Oita could be quite significant,” he added. Just over 779,000 South Koreans visited Japan in January this year alone, the majority staying for less than 90 days and therefore not requiring a visa. The Japanese government has the option of reducing that period – although that would have little impact as most people are on holidays lasting less than a week – or scrapping the visa-free programme entirely. As diplomatic rift between Japan and South Korea deepens, how hard can Seoul afford to push? Companies in other sectors are also concerned about the worsening ties between the two governments. A spokesperson for Toray Industries, which manufactures synthetic fibres and exports around 12 per cent of its total output to South Korea, told the Nikkei newspaper that a prolonged rupture between the two governments could impact its business, although the company is going ahead with plans to invest US$310 million in a factory producing lithium-ion batteries in South Korea. The Japanese government disputes the rulings by South Korean courts, including a similar compensation claim against Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, on the grounds that all claims relating to Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean peninsula were resolved “finally and completely” under the 1965 agreement between Seoul and Tokyo that established diplomatic ties. The South Korean government says the pact does not restrict the right of individuals to sue Japanese companies for their forced labour.