A record 16.8 million Japanese traveled abroad in 1997, but this represents an increase of only 0.6 percent over the previous year’s level, according to a government white paper on tourism published Tuesday.

The figures mark an abrupt turn from the 10 percent increase recorded for three consecutive years beginning in 1994. The report attributes the slowdown to the decreasing value of the yen and the protracted economic slowdown.

Of the total, tourists numbered 13.77 million, with the United States attracting the largest number, with 5.38 million. South Korea came next with 1.6 million, followed by China with 1.04 million. Hong Kong, which was returned to China last July, drew only 910,000 travelers, a 40 percent drop from the previous year. Hong Kong fell from being the second most attractive overseas destination in 1996 to the fourth most attractive destination in 1997.

The figures for travelers to Japan show that in 1997, the country attracted a record 4.22 million foreign travelers, a 9.9 percent increase over the previous year’s level. The report attributes the decline in the value of yen as a major factor for the increase in the number of foreigners visiting Japan.

Japanese domestic travelers totaled 205 million, or 1.63 times per person, an 8 percent increase over the previous year’s level. However, the figure is 10 million fewer than the record level recorded in 1991, the report says.

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