The number of foreign visitors to Japan this year hit a new record, exceeding the previous high of over 24 million logged last year, Japan's tourism minister said Friday.

After hitting the 20 million mark on Sept. 15 at the fastest pace ever, the number of visitors surpassed last year's record of 24,039,700 last Saturday, tourism chief Keiichi Ishii said.

The figure was boosted by an increase in budget airlines and cruise ships connecting Japan with neighbors including China, South Korea and Taiwan, according to officials.

"The government's efforts (to promote inbound tourism) have brought a consistent growth in the number," the land, infrastructure, transport and tourism minister said. "We'd like to accelerate steps to cultivate new tourism resources."

Data released by the Japan Tourism Agency in October showed about 21.2 million foreigners were estimated to have visited in the first nine months of 2017, up 17.9 percent from a year earlier.

By country, visitors from China ranked first at 5.56 million, up 11 percent from a year before, followed by South Korea at 5.22 million, up 40.3 percent, and Taiwan at 3.46 million, up 7 percent.