The number of overseas visitors last year jumped an estimated 34.6 percent from 2011 to 8.368 million, the second-highest level on record, the Japan National Tourism Organization said.
The figure, which fell short of the record 8.611 million travelers seen in 2010, shows Japan’s tourism industry has nearly recovered from the March 2011 disasters, the JNTO said Friday. Comparable data began to be compiled in 1964.
Among other factors, the organization attributed the spike in foreign visitors to lower airfares following the market entry of budget airlines.
But the number fell short of the 9 million travelers the government had targeted for 2012, as ties with China soured amid the flareup over the Japan-controlled Senkaku islets, which are also claimed by Beijing.
By country and region, the annual numbers of visitors from China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam all hit record highs, the JNTO said.
The largest number of travelers came from South Korea, at 2.04 million, but the figure was still down 16.2 percent compared to 2010 due to the won’s depreciation. Taiwan ranked second with 1.47 million visitors, followed by China, at 1.43 million. Taiwanese tourists topped those from China for the first time in three years, according to the JNTO.
In December alone, the estimated number of overseas visitors spiked 20.6 percent from the year before to 689,000, a record high for the reporting month, it said.
At a Friday news conference, Japan Tourism Agency chief Norifumi Ide said the government aims to attract 10 million foreign travelers this year by hosting more international conferences and holding promotional campaigns in fast-growing Southeast Asian nations.