Japan Today -TOKYO
A record 16.63 million foreigners visited Japan in the first six months of 2019, up 4.6 percent from the same period a year earlier, on the back of the country’s relaxed visa regulations for Chinese and other nationals, a government estimate showed Wednesday.
Spending by foreign visitors in the period through June increased 8.3 percent from a year earlier to 2.43 trillion yen ($22 billion), also an all-time high, the Japan Tourism Agency said.
But despite Japan’s continuing tourism promotion efforts ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, the increase in the number of visitors from overseas slowed from the 15.6 percent rise logged in the first half of 2018.
Increasingly souring ties between Japan and South Korea over technology export controls and wartime compensation issues may also cast a shadow over Japan’s tourism industry.
The government has set a target of attracting 40 million foreign visitors annually and increasing their spending to 8 trillion yen next year when Japan hosts the games.
By country and region, the largest number of visitors came from China at 4.53 million, up 11.7 percent, thanks to the easing of visa requirements for individual travelers from January and an increase in flight services.
“The impact of the eased visa requirements for China was notable and we expect a continuing rise in the number of visitors,” Japan Tourism Agency Commissioner Hiroshi Tabata told a press conference.
Visitors from China also spent the highest amount at 895.0 billion yen, followed by visitors from Taiwan at 298.1 billion yen and visitors from South Korea at 276.2 billion yen.
The number of South Korean visitors in the January-June period ranked second after China but fell 3.8 percent to around 3.86 million, the first drop in five years.
Tabata said the impact of chilled bilateral ties had been limited so far but added he “cannot rule out” the possibility that South Koreans will start to refrain from traveling to Japan depending on public sentiment in their country.
The number of visitors from Taiwan was the third largest at around 2.48 million, down 1.0 percent.
The rate of increase was highest for visitors from Vietnam at 30.3 percent, followed by Russia at 20.4 percent.
In June alone, a total of 2.88 million foreigners traveled to Japan, up 6.5 percent from a year earlier, marking a record for the month. Chinese were the largest group at a record 880,700, up 15.7 percent.
South Korea was also among over a dozen countries and regions that set respective records for June, with the number of visitors edging up 0.9 percent to 611,900.
To attract more foreign tourists to Japan, the government has eased visa rules, expanded airports for budget airlines and has promoted private lodging services to address an accommodation shortage.