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FILE PHOTO: People cross a street outside a tax-free department store popular among Chinese tourists in Tokyo, Japan, February 11, 2016. Picture taken February 11, 2016. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo

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TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan is considering relaxing restrictions on visas for tourists from China, three people with direct knowledge of the matter said on Thursday, hoping to extend a tourism boom and lend support to consumer spending.

Since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took office in late 2012, his government has gradually eased visa requirements for Asian countries, pushing to a record high the number of inbound visitors and sparking an increase in hotel construction.

The government is considering lowering the prescribed minimum annual income a Chinese citizen needs to obtain a multiple-entry visa to 3 million yen ($26,983.27) from around 4 million yen now, the sources said.

"We want to announce this policy when the time is right, depending on the pace of increase in hotel accommodation," said one source, who declined to be named because the plans are not final.

The number of foreign visitors to Japan rose 21.8 percent to a record 24 million last year, the Japan National Tourism Organization has said.

China was the number one source of tourists visiting Japan, accounting for 26.5 percent of all arrivals.

($1=111.1800 yen)

(Reporting by Yoshifumi Takemoto; Writing by Stanley White; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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