• Kyodo

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The estimated number of foreign visitors for January rose 9 percent from a year earlier to 2,501,500, a record for the month, the Japan Tourism Agency said Wednesday.

But the growth rate was the slowest since last March partly because the Lunar New Year, a major holiday season celebrated in China and elsewhere, which began later this year. The holiday period started in late January a year ago.

“We had expected the possibility of a drop in the number but it turned out solid. It is a good start” to the year, Akihiko Tamura, commissioner of the agency, said at a news conference.

Over the Lunar New Year holidays in February, Tamura said many travelers from China chose to visit snowy areas such as Hokkaido, the Tohoku region and Niigata Prefecture.

By country and region, visitors from South Korea ranked first at 803,800, up 28.5 percent from a year earlier, likely due to an increase in low-cost carrier flights.

Visitors from China came second at 632,300, up 0.3 percent, followed by those from Taiwan at 350,500, down 0.1 percent, and Hong Kong at 160,500, a drop of 13.5 percent. The number of visitors from the latter two regions also fell in part due to the timing of the Lunar New Year.

Meanwhile, visitors from Indonesia and Russia posted strong growth at 32.7 percent and 31.9 percent, respectively, according to the data. A n increase in the number of flights from Indonesia pushed up the number of visitors, while easing of visa restrictions also helped boost the number of Russian travelers to Japan.

In 2017, the number of tourists from overseas surged 19.3 percent from the previous year to a record 28.69 million.

Spending by foreign tourists also marked a record ¥4.42 trillion last year, a 17.8 percent increase from 2016, according to the agency.

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