National

Foreign visitors top 1.5 million to break March record

Kyodo

Tourist arrivals to Japan topped 1.5 million to break a March record this year as Chinese travelers flocked to the country for cherry blossom season, new figures released Wednesday show.

The rise in arrivals to 1.526 million, up 45.3 percent from a year earlier, was also attributed to the weaker yen and expansion of consumption-tax-free products for foreign tourists since October, the Japan National Tourism Organization said.

“Japan is now enjoying popularity among foreign tourists with visitors from all countries equally increasing,” said Japan Tourism Agency chief Shigeto Kubo.

By country and region, China accounted for the largest share of the total at 338,200 people, up 83.7 percent, followed by Taiwan at 277,900, up 33.2 percent, and South Korea at 268,200, up 39.6 percent, according to the JNTO.

The upward trend also extended to European travelers with a record number of British and German tourists in March at 25,200 and 18,400, respectively, in what was attributed at an earlier Easter holiday period.

The number of visitors from the Philippines more than doubled to 26,800 from the previous year.

According to the JNTO, the number of visitors to Japan between January and March was 4.13 million, up 43.7 percent from the previous year. If the trend continued, international tourist numbers were likely to top 16 million this year.

“Foreigners are drawn by public safety, healthy food and rural landscapes that are specific to Japan,” said Shinichi Shimizu, who teaches tourism at the Rikkyo University.

Japan also saw a growing trend with Chinese tourists flooding Japan’s most popular cherry blossom viewing spots.

JTB Corp., a major travel agency, said the number of inquiries from Chinese tourists had increased after the company started offering cherry blossom tours in English, Chinese, Korean and Thai.

Japan is hoping to boost tourist numbers with the government setting a target of 20 million tourists by 2020, when Tokyo hosts the Olympics Games.

But industry watchers fear the number could drop after the event. The key, they say, is to raise tourist satisfaction levels by offering services in multiple foreign languages.

“To lure foreigners to the countryside and to increase repeat visits, local municipalities need to rediscover what is unique to their region and map out a long-term city plan,” Shimizu said.

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