The estimated number of foreign visitors in the fiscal year through March hit 31.62 million, up 6.2 percent from the previous year, government data showed Wednesday.
Visitors from Asian neighbors helped lift the number but growth slowed from the 19.9 percent rise seen in the previous fiscal year due to a number of natural disasters, including earthquakes and torrential rains that hit the country last summer, an official at the Japan Tourism Agency said.
The figure for March alone was estimated at 2.76 million, up 5.8 percent from the year before, marking a record high for the month, according to the agency.
The government has set a target of attracting 40 million foreign visitors annually by next year, when Japan hosts the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games. To meet that goal, the government has eased visa rules, expanded airports for budget airlines and promoted private lodging services to address an accommodation shortage.
The agency also said spending by foreign tourists in the January-March period rose 0.5 percent from the previous year to ¥1.12 trillion ($10 billion), still far from the government target of ¥8 trillion for all of 2020.
Chinese travelers spent the most at ¥402.1 billion, followed by Taiwanese at ¥150.1 billion, South Koreans at ¥147.9 billion and those from Hong Kong at ¥80.7 billion.
Spending per visitor in the three-month period fell 5.9 percent to ¥143,206, the data showed.
By country, Australians ranked first in average spending per visitor at ¥234,972, followed by Chinese at ¥207,235 and Vietnamese at ¥194,310.
Hiroshi Tabata, commissioner of the agency, said at a news conference that the tepid spending could be attributed to slowing growth in the number of foreign visitors.
In particular, there was a drop in the number of tourists from South Korea after the natural disasters, the agency official said.
“It’s important for us to find new potential tourists, promote visits by them to rural areas and get them to stay longer in Japan. We’re planning more efforts with all that in mind,” Tabata said.