Japan continues its popularity as a tourist destination for East Asians with a record number of visitors in September pushing the total for 2015 past all of last year, the Japan National Tourism Organization said Thursday.

The September visitor count grew 46.7 percent over the same month last year to a record 1.61 million.

The total, which continued a run of over 40 percent month-on-month growth since February, brings the total visitors in the first nine months of the year to 14.5 million, surpassing the annual record of 13.4 million last year.

September’s strong growth was driven in part by a 99.6 percent increase in Chinese visitors, totaling 491,200. The Chinese were followed by 115,200 Hong Kong visitors, an increase of 64.9 percent over the same month last year.

The month’s increase was helped by a dramatic jump in the number of cruise ship arrivals, which grew to 50 vessels from the 16 last year, bringing in 124,000 visitors compared to the 35,000 in the same month a year ago, according to a spokeswoman for JNTO, a tourism-ministry affiliated organization tasked with promoting inbound tourism.

China, South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong represent the top four nations for visitors to Japan, making East Asia JNTO’s area of focus, the spokeswoman said. Increasing the number of flights from inland airports in China has also contributed to the continued strong growth, she added.

The growing number of foreign visitors means tourism has become an area of focus for the government’s economic growth policy, with the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Olympics expected to be a major draw.

The Visit Japan program, started in 2004, is targeting 20 countries and areas including Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand and Singapore, as well as the United States, nations in Europe such as Germany and France and four leading East Asian territories.

September saw visitors from all countries and territories except Indonesia and Russia reach record levels for the month.

JNTO is expecting robust growth in October as well, helped by major national holidays in China, South Korea and the Philippines. It also expects the scenic beauty of the mountains with the changing fall colors to attract more visitors.

While Japan continues to see record numbers of inbound visitors, there is still large room for growth. In the ranking of nations in terms of the annual total visitors for 2014, the nation ranked number 22 globally and seventh in Asia with travelers totaling 13.4 million, according to U.N. World Tourism Organization statistics.

That compares with the 83.7 million who traveled to France, 74.8 million who traveled to the United States and the 65.0 million who traveled to China, the top three nations on the list.

Visitor numbers have increased gradually but steadily in Japan since WWII. But since the 26.8 percent jump in 2010, annual rates have been unusually high — with the exception of 2011, the year of the nuclear disaster at Fukushima No. 1 power plant — bringing a total increase of 29.4 percent in 2014.

Visitors totaled just 0.4 million in 1964, the year of the first Tokyo Olympics.

The Tourism Agency cited, among other reasons for the increased numbers for the past fiscal year, the introduction of a strategy that steps up efforts to advertise local attractions outside of Tokyo, rather than the more traditional tourist sites, to promote demand.

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