Update: as of 2016, tourists and foreign residents in Japan can now apply for a visa at the Chinese Visa Application Service Center so you no longer have to use a travel agency.
If you’re a foreigner living in Japan (not a tourist) you can no longer apply for a Chinese tourist visa (type L) direct from the Chinese embassy in Tokyo (although type F business visas are still available). Despite conflicting information on their website you will be given the number of a travel agency who charge more than double the going rate than the embassy (10,000 ¥ vs 4,000 ¥).
Embassies in many countries seem to be doing this in recent years but it feels a lot like a money-making racketeering scam and the only thing you can do is shop around to find the cheapest travel agency (as opposed to the embassy recommended one).
After a bit of research online I found Weston (ウエストン) in Roppongi who can apply on your behalf and charge a more modest fee. While their website is only in Japanese, some of their staff speak basic English. There are many different lengths of visa you can apply for but here’s the most straight forward:
Single Entry 30-day Tourist Visa (L)
- Non-Japanese/US citizens: 6,500 ¥ (4 days) / 9,500 ¥ (2 days)
- US citizens: 18,000 ¥ (4 days) / 22,000 ¥ (2 days)
The high fees for Americans are reciprocal charges levied because of the high price for Chinese to get US visas.
- Passport with at least 6 months till expiry
- Passport photo on light background
- Copy of Japan resident card
- Copy of return flight tickets
- Copy of hotel reservation or invitation letter from a Chinese national (when staying at their home)
株式会社 ウエストン (Weston Ltd.)
Tokyo, Minato-ku, Nishi-Azabu 3-1-18
Roppongi Newborn Building 4F
Office hours: 9am to 6pm (Mon-Fri), 10am to 2pm (Sat)
You could go to their office directly or make an appointment by filling in their online form (Japanese only). Payment can be made by cash at their office with an additional fee if you want your passport to be delivered somewhere.
Hope this helps and leave a comment below if you have any other recommendations or questions.