Misinformation can spread like wildfire, and when Yumi Watabe set foot in China's Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region she knew she had to take action.
"There have been reports about Xinjiang in Japan," said the 33-year-old ski instructor from Hakuba, one of Japan's premier winter destinations, "but there were a lot of details missing, which left me with the impression that Xinjiang and (its capital) Urumqi are dangerous places."
As a member of the first tour group from Japan to visit Xinjiang after the COVID-19 pandemic and as a first-time visitor to the region, Watabe is not alone in her assessment of the true situation.
For a long time, certain countries and Western media have used Xinjiang as a tool to misrepresent China, claiming there has been "forced labor" or even attempted "genocide" in the region. In some extreme narratives, China's anti-terrorism efforts in Xinjiang were distorted as policies to "systematically oppress ethnic groups".
To dispel such disinformation, Watabe livestreamed her trip to Xinjiang on Twitter. She posted videos on the nightlife and dining featuring fruit and roasted lamb, the Huoyan (Flaming) Mountain in Turpan Basin and the Loulan beauty, a mummy wrapped in clothes made from linen, cotton and silk. Watabe believes that by posting such videos, people who had previously believed the false information will now be better informed.
However, Watabe's efforts were criticized as "propaganda for the Chinese government" by some netizens. She dismisses the critics because they "didn't walk a mile in her shoes".
"What I am doing is sharing my own views and what I am seeing on the trip," Watabe said, adding that her accounts cannot be denied by using inaccurate media reports.
In December 2021, China's consulate general in Osaka issued an invitation for Japanese people from all walks of life to travel to Xinjiang after the end of the pandemic to see for themselves the true situation in the region.
The first group of 20 Japanese tourists arrived in Urumqi earlier this month for a nine-day trip.
Ryugo Moritaka, another member of the Japanese tour group, said he and his wife had been worried about their safety in Xinjiang, but after arriving in the region they had felt totally safe.
The 66-year-old photographer loves to take photos of people and observe their expressions as he believes that they are true reflections of a person's inner feelings.
"If a person lives in doubt and fear, it can be seen in their face. In my photos what I saw in local residents' faces is true happiness and satisfaction with their lives," he said.
Keishi Sawada, who took his 11-year-old son with him to Xinjiang, said the trip had deep educational significance.
"I want to tell him by taking this trip he should develop his own thinking and judgment, instead of being misled or influenced by others on anything," Sawada said.
He said he wanted his son to have the opportunity to see the region with his own eyes, meet with local residents and get to know the real Xinjiang.
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