Japan’s Foreign Visitors Top 10 Million for the First TimeSociety Culture
Recent Changes Help Attract More Tourists
There are a number of factors behind the recent increase in the number of foreign visitors to Japan, including the easing of requirements for tourist visas issued to Chinese nationals and those from ASEAN member nations, streamlining of immigration procedures for overseas visitors, and the expansion of low-cost carriers (LCC) servicing Japan as well as an increase in the number of flights.
At major train stations in Tokyo, signage in English, Chinese, and Korean has been improved and the system of extending hospitality to foreign guests also shows signs of being enhanced. The rapid depreciation of the yen in 2013 due to “Abenomics” has also boosted tourism, making the cost of tours and shopping seem much cheaper than before in the eyes of foreign visitors.
Many Tourists from China and South Korea
Foreign visitors to Japan numbered 5.21 million in 2003 and have been on an upward curve since then. In 2009, after the global financial crisis, the number of visitors did plunge temporarily but began to pick up again from 2012 onwards—finally topping 10 million in 2013.
The economic benefits resulting from 10 million annual foreign visitors have been roughly estimated to boost consumer spending by about 1% of Japan’s overall GDP. In the midst of its population decline, Japan hopes that its policies to attract domestic tourism will have a positive impact on its business climate and help to revitalize its regional economies.
Looking at the total of 9.49 million foreign visitors to Japan from January to November, the breakdown according to nationality was: South Korea 24%; Taiwan 13%; China 13%; the United States 8%; Hong Kong 7%: Thailand 4%; and other countries 22%. It is worth noting that approximately 60% of the foreign visitors were from Chinese- and Korean-speaking countries despite the recent deterioration in Japan’s diplomatic relations with China and the Republic of Korea as a result of territorial issues and conflicting views of history.
Not Yet a Top Tourist Destination
Looking at the number of foreigners visiting Japan in the context of world rankings, Japan still has a long way before joining the ranks of the world’s leading tourist nations. According to the World Tourism Rankings, compiled by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), France was the world’s top tourist destination in 2012, attracting 83.01 million foreign tourists, followed by the United States (66.96 million), China (57.72 million), Spain (57.70 million), and Italy (46.36 million). That same year Japan was ranked thirty-third with 8.36 million visitors—a mere one-tenth of France’s total. But by attracting 10 million visitors in 2013, Japan may see its ranking improve to around thirtieth place or even higher.
In September 2013, Tokyo was chosen as the host city for the 2020 Summer Olympics and Paralympics, bolstering interest in Japan around the world. Leveraging this interest, the Japanese government has set a goal of 20 million annual visitors to Japan by 2020. Further promotional activities to attract visitors will be necessary to achieve that goal, such as improving infrastructure for foreign visitors, hosting more international conferences in Japan, and generally stepping up efforts to improve the country’s global profile.
(Originally written in Japanese.)