Foreign tourists in Japan spent a record ¥4.81 trillion ($43.6 billion) in 2019 in line with a continued increase in visitors, government data showed Friday.
Their spending rose 6.5 percent from 2018, increasing for the seventh consecutive year, the Japan Tourism Agency said in a preliminary report.
The number of foreign visitors marked an all-time high of 31.88 million last year, but the margin of growth slowed to 2.2 percent from 8.7 percent in 2018 as South Korean tourists dropped sharply due to a deterioration in bilateral ties, the agency said.
Visitors from South Korea fell 25.9 percent to 5.58 million.
Bilateral relations have soured since South Korean court rulings ordered Japanese firms in October 2018 to compensate for wartime labor during Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula between 1910 and 1945.
The row deepened after a South Korean destroyer allegedly locked its fire-control radar on a Japanese patrol plane in Japan’s exclusive economic zone in December that year and has escalated in recent months into a tit-for-tat trade dispute, prompting each country to revoke the other’s preferential trade status.
The figures cloud the outlook for achieving the government’s goals of 40 million visitors and ¥8 trillion of spending this year.
Although average spending per visitor in Japan rose 3.5 percent to ¥158,458 in 2019, following a 0.9 percent decline in 2018, it remained below the record of ¥176,167 set in 2015. Spending has stayed in the ¥150,000 range since 2016.
Australia led spending by country in 2019 with ¥249,000 per person, followed by Britain at ¥242,000 and France at ¥238,000, thanks in part to the Rugby World Cup last year.
The number of tourists from the top 20 countries and regions to visit Japan hit record highs, excluding South Korea.
By country and region, China led with 9.59 million visitors, up 14.5 percent, followed by South Korea, then Taiwan at 4.89 million, up 2.8 percent, and Hong Kong at 2.29 million, up 3.8 percent.