The surge of foreign visitors to Japan in the first half of this year, which hit a record 13.76 million, is attributable mainly to a rise in South Korean tourists, particularly those arriving on low-cost carriers.

“More young (South Korean) people are enjoying brief personal trips (to Japan) casually using LCCs,” said Shin Seo-kyung, deputy director of the Korea Tourism Organization’s Tokyo office.

Weekly South Korean LCC flights in and out of Japan this summer numbered 483, more than quadruple the figure four years ago, according to the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry.

Key destinations for South Korean travelers are in the Kansai region, apparently due to the proximity of Kansai International Airport, host to many LCC flights.

In Kansai South Korean visitors typically shop in Osaka and visit tourist attractions in the ancient capitals of Kyoto and Nara.

South Korean tourists’ appetite for Japanese food has also been high, partly due to a TV drama based on the gastronomy comic “Kodoku no Gurume” (“Solitary Gourmet”).

A record 5.09 million South Koreans visited Japan last year, when total foreign visitors marked an all-time high of 24.04 million, up 21.8 percent from the previous year.

At that time, Chinese travelers accounted for the largest portion, at 6.37 million visitors, followed by South Koreans.

In the first half of this year, the number of foreign visitors soared 17.4 percent from a year earlier to a record 13.76 million, according to the Japan Tourism Agency.

In the six months, South Koreans accounted for the highest number of foreign tourists, at 3.40 million, up 42.5 percent, followed by Chinese at 3.28 million, up 6.7 percent. The increase in Chinese visitors has decelerated because more are turning to tours to Europe.

The number of South Korean visitors to Japan “will likely reach 7 million during the full year,” Korea Tourism Organization President Jung Chang-soo predicts.

Citing the government’s target of attracting 40 million foreign visitors in 2020, when Tokyo hosts the Olympic and Paralympic Games, Jung said in that year South Korean visitors to Japan would mark 10 million.

Japan and South Korea held a bilateral forum to promote tourism earlier this month on Jeju Island and agreed to increase flights between their local airports to attract tourists to the countryside.

In the meeting, Japan made a pitch for tours to sites of such famous Japanese animation films as “Your Name.” and for experience-based tourist activities.

“It is important to attract visitors not only to the capital area, Kansai area or other urban regions but tourist spots that have not been very familiar,” a senior official of the Japan Tourism Agency said.

Some analysts have pointed to the possibility that South Korean tourists have been turning to Japan partly because of their country’s soured relations with China over the U.S. deployment of the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense missile system in South Korea.

“It would be risky to depend on South Koreans who tend to stay for a short time and spend little,” one analyst said.

The Japan Tourism Agency has designated 20 countries and territories from which Tokyo intends to attract visitors as a priority in the current fiscal year.

“We would like to make efforts to increase travelers who spend relatively a lot,” agency chief Akihiko Tamura said in a news conference in mid-July.

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