The number of foreign visitors to Japan hit a whopping 24.03 million last year, topping the 20 million mark for the first time and renewing the annual record high for the fifth straight year, tourism minister Keiichi Ishii said Tuesday.

But the 22 percent increase in the number of international visitors from the year before is smaller than the 47 percent surge logged in 2015, showing that maintaining phenomenal growth in the tourism sector is an increasingly tall order.

The 2016 tally is "a result of our unprecedented, quick and national-level measures" in the area of tourism, which the government sees as a key driver of economic growth, Ishii told a regularly scheduled news conference.