A record 9.14 million foreigners are estimated to have visited Japan from January to June this year, a 46 percent increase from the same period in 2014, as the country continued to attract tourists from China, Taiwan and elsewhere, government data showed Wednesday.
The surge in foreign passenger arrivals, which greatly eclipsed the previous high set last year, came on the back of a weaker yen and government measures such as easing visa rules and expanding the scope of duty-free shopping, according to the Japan Tourism Agency.
The figures are the latest sign that the government is moving closer to achieving its goal of increasing the annual figure to 20 million by 2020, when Tokyo will host the Olympics and Paralympics.
Shigeto Kubo, commissioner of the agency, told a press conference that he expects around 18 million foreign passenger arrivals this year, up from about 13.41 million last year.
In June alone, the number of foreign passenger arrivals jumped 52 percent from a year earlier to 1.60 million, said the Japan National Tourism Organization, a body overseen by the agency.
By countries and regions, Chinese traveler arrivals more than doubled to 462,300, the largest share of the total and a record for a single month, followed by 345,200 from Taiwan.
South Korean travelers were third at 251,500, hitting an all-time high for June. But a year-on-year increase sharply slowed amid the recent MERS virus outbreak in South Korea that has made people reluctant to leave their homes.
The organization expects a lot more visits in July, the start of the summer vacation season. More than 40 cruise ships from East Asia are set to make port calls in Japan, it said.
For the first half of the year, the number of Chinese travelers more than doubled from a year earlier to 2.18 million, followed by 1.82 million from South Korea and 1.79 million from Taiwan.
The government has been stepping up efforts to attract foreign visitors to prop up the economy amid Japan’s shrinking population.
In October, the government abolished a rule limiting duty-free products to electrical appliances and fashion goods, and allowed everything from cosmetics to food and alcohol to be eligible for exemption from the nation’s 8 percent consumption tax.
Such measures appear to have further encouraged shopping by tourists. Chinese on shopping sprees dubbed “explosive buying” have become a familiar sight in areas such as Tokyo’s Ginza shopping district.
Despite concerns over China’s economic slowdown, the tourism agency’s Kubo said he currently does not see any negative impact on organized tours to Japan.
Between January and June last year, the overall number of foreign passenger arrivals stood at 6.26 million, a record at the time.