Foreign Visitors to Japan Nearing 20 Million Annually


50% Rise in 8 Months

The number of foreigners who visited Japan during January-August this year totaled 12,875,000, surging 49.1% over the same period of last year, according to a report released by the Japan National Tourism Organization on September 16. The upsurge was attributed to a sharp rise in visitors from China and other Asian countries. As of September 10, the number of foreign visitors had already exceeded the 2014 full-year total of 13.41 million.

Commissioner Tamura Akihiko of the Japan Tourism Agency told a press conference that it appears certain that the total number of foreign visitors this year will hit an all-time high, Barring unexpected events, the number is likely to reach 19 million, he said. If foreign visitors increase at the year-on-year pace seen in January–August for the rest of this year, the number would come to 19.99 million, coming close to the 20-million target the government has set for 2020.

The number of foreign visitors totaled 1,817,000 in August, up 63.8% over a year earlier. This fell short of July’s 1,918,000, which represented the highest ever inbound number for a single month. Still, the August figure marked the second highest year-on-year growth since the statistics began being compiled in 1964.

Cheaper Yen and Relaxed Visa Requirements

Behind the sharp rise in foreign visitors has been the cheaper yen, which enables tourists to stay and shop at lower prices, paired with an expanded scope of tax-free products. Further impetus has come from the government’s relaxation of requirements for visa issuance.

To break down the January–August visitors by country, tourists from China remained the largest group, spiking 117% over a year earlier to 3,347,000, followed by South Korea with 2,554,100 (up 43.6%) and Taiwan with 2,468,300 (up 29.9%). Hong Kong ranked fourth, the United States fifth, and Thailand sixth.

In January the government relaxed requirements for multiple visas for Chinese, resulting in the surge in Chinese tourists. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the number of visas issued for Chinese in 2014 totaled 2.04 million, doubling the previous year’s number.

Unfazed by Market Turmoil

Many feared that the sharp decline in Chinese stock prices from June and prospects of a slowdown in the Chinese economy would have an impact on the trend of Chinese tourists. But no tangible adverse effect was seen in August, judging from the industry’s healthy numbers.

What is more, the Chinese government’s restrained reaction to Prime Minister Abe Shinzō’s August 14 statement on the seventieth anniversary of the end of World War II appears to have helped accelerate Chinese tourists’ shopping binge.

Looking at year-on-year growth in foreign visitors to Japan, January posted a 29.1% gain, followed by a 57.6% climb in February. The growth rate has since been moving between 43% and 52% or so.

Regarding Chinese visitors, their monthly number rose year-on-year 45.4% in January, 159.8% in February, 83.7% in March, 112.9% in April, 133.5% in May, a provisional 167.1% in June, 105.1% in July, and 133.1% in August (the last two figures are preliminary).

Propping Up the Japanese Economy

Unless the sluggish stock market leads to a serious deterioration of the Chinese economy, squeezing people’s income, the influx of Chinese tourists into Japan appears likely to help the government achieve the 20-million target earlier than expected. An enormous military parade China conducted on September 3 to commemorate the victory in World War II ended without an upwelling of anti-Japanese sentiment, another encouraging sign in this regard.

Meanwhile, the JTA notes that more middle-income earners than wealthy people in China are visiting Japan, that the middle-income bracket is expected to play a key role in fostering the Chinese market, and that the points of departure for Chinese tourists have been shifting to inland areas away from the wealthier coastal regions.

Thanks to the inbound tourism boom, Japan’s overseas travel balance produced a surplus of ¥129.5 billion in July, the largest ever for that month and the second biggest on record for a single month. JTA Commissioner Tamura said that foreign tourists have been propping up the Japanese economy and playing an increasingly important part in resuscitating regional economy, adding that his agency is trying to create a tourism-oriented country.

(Originally written in Japanese by Miki Takajirō of the editorial department and published on October 5, 2015. Banner photo: Commissioner Tamura Akihiko of the Japan Tourism Agency speaks at a press conference.)

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