The estimated number of overseas visitors to Japan reached a record high 31.19 million in 2018, up 8.7 percent from the previous year and rising for the seventh straight year, the tourism minister said Friday.

Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Minister Keiichi Ishii credited the growth to the relaxation of visa requirements for travelers from Russia, India, the Philippines and other countries, as well as promotions overseas.

"The government's efforts have brought the desired result," Ishii said. "There is a sign of us hitting the 40 million mark on the horizon."

The government has set a target of 40 million annual visitors by 2020, when Japan will host the Olympics. The Japan Tourism Agency will release a detailed report on foreign visitors in 2018, including a regional breakdown, next Wednesday.

Growth continued throughout the year except in September, when the number posted a year-on-year decline following a typhoon and an earthquake that led to temporary shutdowns of airports in Osaka and Hokkaido, respectively.

Earlier this week, Japan started collecting a ¥1,000 departure tax from every traveler leaving Japan. The government will use the revenue to promote tourism, Ishii said.