May 19, 2016 4:25 am JST

Visitors to Japan break record in April

Foreign tourists visit Tokyo's Asakusa district.

TOKYO -- A record number of foreigners visited Japan in April, though last month's devastating earthquakes have affected tourist traffic in the stricken areas.

Slightly more than 2.08 million tourists arrived last month, up 18% from a year earlier, the Japan National Tourism Organization reported Wednesday. Japan also posted a record visitor count in March. More cruise ships arrived in harbors, and marketing campaigns by airlines drew additional tourists.

Asian countries continue to provide many of the sightseers. Chinese travelers rose 27%, while visitors from Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and other Southeast Asian countries shot up 20-30%.

But the year-on-year increase slowed in April compared with the 30-50% gains in the first three months of the year due to the quakes that hit the Kyushu region in southern Japan.

The Japan Tourism Agency said the total number of foreigners visiting Kyushu did not decrease in April, but the number of South Korean tourists, who accounted for more than 40% of Kyushu's foreign visitor count last year, fell by roughly 30% from a year earlier.

"Kumamoto and Yufuin [an area in Oita Prefecture famous for hot springs] are the centers of tourism in Kyushu. The effects of the earthquakes will be unavoidable for May as well," said Akihiko Tamura, commissioner of the Japan Tourism Agency. He told reporters Wednesday that the earthquakes have had no impact on tourism outside Kyushu.

Since the quakes, around 24,000 people have canceled plans to visit Kumamoto Prefecture's Kurokawa hot springs, a popular tourist spot, resulting in 530 million yen ($4.82 million) in losses. Neighboring Oita Prefecture also was hit with a rush of canceled bookings during the Golden Week holidays.

"First came the cancellations from overseas tourist groups, then the string of inquiries from individual domestic tourists," said a hotel manager in Beppu, an Oita Prefecture city.

The government aims to draw 40 million tourists to Japan by 2020, twice the number that arrived last year. The tourism agency said the visitor count will pick up gradually starting in June when direct flights from South Korea resume after earthquake-related suspensions.

The agency will soon devise a plan to minimize the impact of the earthquakes. The initiative is to feature a large-scale promotional campaign ahead of the summer and fall seasons and travel vouchers good for hotels and other places.

(Nikkei)

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