With the seizure of a Chinese fishing boat by Japan last month still roiling relations, thousands of protesters turned out over the weekend in at least three provincial Chinese cities chanting anti-Japanese slogans and, in one case, smashing the windows of a Japanese store.
Demonstrators apparently mobilized because of reports that there would be a Japanese protest near the Chinese Embassy in Tokyo.
The largest demonstration was in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province. Videos taken Saturday showed thousands of people streaming down a pedestrian mall toward the Japanese-owned Ito-Yokado department store. The protesters appeared to be mostly in their 20s, a boisterous crowd armed with cellphone cameras, bullhorns and posters listing Japanese brands they were instructed to avoid.
"Love China, Boycott Japan Products!" read many of the banners.
Protesters broke shop windows in the department store and draped a Chinese flag across it. At one point, they scuffled with riot police.
The demonstration in Chengdu had been organized by a group that distributed fliers calling for people to "oppose the Japanese invasion of China's Diaoyutai." That was a reference to the uninhabited islands in the East China Sea, which are also claimed by Taiwan and by Japan under the name Senkaku.
The flier was published by a website called Chengdu Living; the site also distributed photographs of the demonstration, which it said drew 35,000 people. Text and Twitter messages also circulated among students, helping draw a large showing. Smaller demonstrations took place in Xian and Zhengzhou, the capitals of Shaanxi and Henan provinces, respectively. The official New China News Agency said 7,000 people demonstrated in Xian.
Although it wasn't reported by state media, thousands of people were said to have demonstrated in the smaller Sichuan city of Mianyang on Sunday, where blog posts said protesters vandalized a Japanese noodle restaurant and threw rocks at a Japanese car dealership.
The anti-Japanese protests were the largest since 2005, when protesters vandalized businesses across China. Many of them actually were franchises owned by Chinese.
In contrast to the sizable turnouts in the provinces this weekend, demonstrations in Beijing have drawn a lackluster response. The Japanese Embassy was surrounded by a cordon of riot police, but there was no indication that anybody was trying to demonstrate in the tightly controlled capital.
On Sept. 8, Japan detained the captain and crew of a Chinese fishing boat near the disputed islands, charging him with deliberately ramming his boat into a Japanese coast guard vessel. He has since been released.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry issued a statement Sunday with only mild criticism of the protests.
"It is understandable that some people expressed their outrage against the recent erroneous words and deeds on the Japanese side," read the statement from spokesman Ma Zhaoxu, adding: "We maintain that patriotism should be expressed rationally and in line with law."
In Tokyo, it was reported that 2,000 Japanese protested in front of the Chinese Embassy.