• Kyodo News

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“Chinese credit cards welcome” declares a gold-colored notice posted outside a department store in the Ginza shopping district of Tokyo, announcing as well the worth of foreign tourists in these tough economic times.

The cards, issued in a tieup with a major Japanese credit card company in 2005, are now accepted by 12,000 retail shops, restaurants, inns and other facilities across the country, as foreign travelers, including Chinese and other Asians, help make up for sluggish domestic demand.

The Visit Japan Campaign has its roots in a policy speech given to the Diet in 2003 by then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. He targeted raising the number of foreign travelers from 5.21 million annually to 10 million by 2010, and since then the number has gradually increased to a record 8.35 million last year.

About 70 percent of those visitors were Asians. As a result of the global economic slowdown, there is a low ebb in the domestic travel market. But the number of foreign travelers is steadily rising, and the 10 million target appears to be in sight.

According to an estimate by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, the amount of money spent by seven foreign travelers is equal to a Japanese national’s annual consumption.

In other words, even if Japan’s population declines, consumption can be kept high through tourism, which explains its importance particularly to regional economies.

But there are still quite a lot of problems. For example, the Tokyo metropolitan area and the Chubu and Kansai regions attract fully 70 percent of the foreign tourists who visit.

Foreign travelers polled said ease of access and availability of accommodations were key factors favoring big cities.

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