Foreign visitors to Japan saw first fall in five years in 2008

Kyodo News

The number of foreign visitors to Japan in 2008 turned downward for the first time in five years, totaling about 9.15 million, down 5,800, or 0.1 percent, from the previous year when it marked a record high, the Justice Ministry said Thursday in a preliminary report.

The number “was on the rise in the first half of the reporting year, but dwindled in the latter half against the backdrop of the global economic downturn and the yen’s surge,” a ministry official said.

The decline is said to be mainly attributable to a significant decrease in the number of visitors from South Korea, which saw its currency tumble sharply in the reporting year. They have accounted for about 30 percent of the total in recent years.

The number of Japanese traveling overseas meanwhile fell for the second straight year, down 7.6 percent from the year before to 15.99 million in a reflection of the slowing economy and the rise in airfares following crude oil price hikes, the ministry said.

Travel on decline

The number of Japanese trips lasting overnight or longer trips this year for business or pleasure will drop 1.3 percent from last year to 308.55 million, marking the seventh straight annual decline, top travel agency JTB Corp. forecast Thursday.

The economic crisis is expected to put a damper on travel even though weekends followed by three national holidays will occur in both May and September, making it easier to take a five-day vacation.