Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura says he was disappointed that Chinese leaders refused to meet with him, and that he did not get the apology he sought for mobs that pelted his Japanese facilities with rocks and excrement.
But he told VOA some progress was made: "We have moved forward together with China to have better relations. It is just a small step, but if you look back, in the future, I am sure this trip is a big step towards the goal."
There are signs both countries want to ease mounting tensions. Japan proposed a commission to address issues that China says triggered the protests. And a Chinese official said Japan's repeated apology for its early 20th century aggression was a step toward healing relations.
Mr. Machimura also reaffirmed Japan's policy of recognizing Taiwan as a part of China, words Beijing wanted to hear.
Some Japanese diplomats indicated they do not know what more China wants from Tokyo to ease the dispute. They pointed to growing trade ties between the two countries as one big reason why relations should be good, saying trade volume between the two countries has already exceeded that between the Japan and the United States.
Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei told reporters earlier that both countries would need to work further to improve relations: "Some serious difficulties are emerging in China and Japan relations. We should say that these problems are the most difficult, and the most serious, problems since the realization of normalized diplomatic relations between China and Japan in 1972."
A series of demonstrations in China over the past few weeks have centered on a number of issues, including Japan's approval of textbooks that some Chinese believe gloss over Tokyo's invasion of the country in the 1930's.
Japan's top diplomat says he leaves Beijing with assurances from Chinese officials that Japanese interests will be protected: "They said China is controlled by law. I hope that they will abide by that promise."
The two governments are discussing the possibility that Chinese President Hu Jintao and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi will meet later this week at the Asia-Africa Summit in Indonesia.