TOKYO (Reuters) - A Japanese cosmetics firm has apologized for a sign banning entry for Chinese people posted in one of its outlets, highlighting lingering hostility to foreign visitors from some in Japan as it strives to extend a shopping-driven tourism boom.
Pola, a unit of Pola Orbis Holdings Inc, said on Saturday that images of an "inappropriate" poster were shared on Chinese social media sites on Friday, without specifying the contents or location of the offending item.
Photos of a sign handwritten in Japanese saying "Entry by Chinese people prohibited" in a shop window were trending on Chinese and Taiwanese social media on Sunday.
Pola, which has around 4,600 stores across Japan, apologized for causing "unpleasant feelings and inconvenience to many people" and said it had removed the sign.
"As soon as we confirm the facts, we will suspend operations at the store and implement strict punishment," it said in a statement posted at the top of its homepage in both Japanese and Chinese.
Pola's mea culpa comes as Japan looks to boost a Chinese-powered inbound tourism boom ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics - a policy championed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government.
Japan is weighing looser visa rules for tourists from China, sources told Reuters earlier this year, as it looks to widen a tourism boom and lend support to consumer spending.
Some 23.8 million visited Japan in the year to October, setting it on course for an annual record. Visitors from China - the No.1 source - climbed 13 percent from a year earlier to 6.2 million during the period, government data shows.
Many Chinese tourists have taken advantage of a weaker yen and easier entry rules to visit Japan for shopping sprees dubbed "explosive buying". Cosmetics are among the most popular items for Chinese shoppers.
The Pola incident is not the first time this year a Japanese firm has offended China. Tokyo-based hotel and real estate developer APA Group came under fire this year over books placed in its hotels that contained essays denying the 1937 massacre by Japanese troops in the Chinese city of Nanjing.
Following street protests and calls for a boycott of the chain by China's tourism administration, APA in June temporarily removed the books from hotels hosting athletes for a sports event - but said it would not do the same during the 2020 Olympics.
(Reporting by Thomas Wilson; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)