The annual number of inbound travelers to Japan topped 30 million for the first time in mid-December, and is believed to have reached 31 million by the end of 2018. That's about six times the figure recorded in 2003, when the government set a target of welcoming 10 million visitors by "around 2010." Inbound tourism to Japan took a hit from the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011. But the number has increased by three times in just five years since the figure topped 10 million in 2013.

Being able to attract tourists from overseas leads to greater international understanding of Japan and more exchanges with people from abroad. Increased consumption by inbound tourists, which now underpins the business of retail sectors such as department stores, has allowed Japan, with its rapidly aging and shrinking population, to benefit from expanding consumer demand in the rapidly growing economies of Asia — a key source of the inbound tourism. Efforts must be sustained to beef up tourism as a key industry in the future.

The sharp increase in inbound tourism in recent years came on the back of rapid growth in many Asian economies, which boosted travel demand among consumers who could increasingly afford overseas tours. The depreciation of the yen since 2012 made travel to Japan more affordable, and the government took steps such as easing visa requirements for tourists from Southeast Asia as well as increasing the number of duty-free shops, while more flights to Japan by low-cost carriers also shored up inbound tourism.