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Japan's off-the-beaten-path airports hungry to grow

Foreign passenger traffic at nonmajor airfields climbs 450%

Surrounded by picturesque mountains, Matsumoto Airport in Nagano Prefecture is close to tourist spots. (Photo by Masato Takeuchi)

OSAKA/SAPPORO -- A little past 9 a.m. on Monday, a Finnair flight from Helsinki carrying 194 passengers landed at New Chitose Airport in Hokkaido. It was the airline's inaugural flight from the Finnish capital to Hokkaido's principal airport.

Among the passengers was a 35-year-old programmer who was making his 17th visit to Japan, but his first to Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan's four main islands. He said he had long been looking forward to visiting the place, where a friend had once studied.

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