July 21, 2016 5:10 am JST

Foreign tourists flock back to Japan

The Imperial Palace in Tokyo is a popular sightseeing destination among foreign visitors.

TOKYO -- The number of foreign visitors to Japan rose 23.9% on the year to 1.98 million in June, topping records for the month, the Japan Tourism Agency announced Wednesday.

The rate of year-on-year increase picked up for the first time in five months, partly on the rush of cruise ships from China and other countries. Foreign ships stopped at Japanese ports 156 times in June, up 77% from a year earlier, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism said. Supersized cruise ship Quantum of the Seas docked in Japanese ports, such as Muroran and Yokohama, bringing ashore its more than 4,000 passengers for sightseeing and shopping.

The impact of the Kumamoto Prefecture earthquakes in April is easing as well. Visitors from South Korea, which faces the quake-hit Kyushu region just across the Sea of Japan, declined on the year in May, but their number rebounded for a solid 38% gain in June. The numbers of visitors from Taiwan, Hong Kong and the U.S. topped their respective monthly records.

"The uptrend in inbound visitors will not change over the long term, considering urban development projects ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and other factors," said Hirokazu Anai of JPMorgan Securities Japan.

Total visitors to Japan for the first six months of 2016 jumped 28.2% on the year to a record 11.71 million. If the pace continues through the busy summer and fall seasons, the full-year total could reach about 25 million.

But spending by foreign visitors did not keep pace with the growth in their numbers. The increase in foreign travelers lifted their total spending by 7.2% on the year in the April-June quarter, but spending per visitor dropped 9.9% to 159,930 yen ($1,500).

The per-person figure declined for the second straight quarter as Chinese visitors tightened their purse strings. Chinese travelers spent an average of roughly 220,000 yen, 23% less than a year earlier. They snapped up more cosmetics and perfume, but shied away from expensive electronics. Still, Chinese visitors accounted for 37% of total spending by foreign tourists.

The yen strengthened by over 10% against the yuan on the year in April-June, sapping Chinese tourists of purchasing power in Japan. A change in import tariffs in China for goods imported by individuals also made a negative impact.

"We want to create a consumption structure that does not rely on particular conditions at particular countries," Japan Tourism Agency Commissioner Akihiko Tamura told reporters Wednesday. Tokyo aims to draw tourists from a wide variety of countries by adding more attractions that offer unique experiences as well as by measures such as raising the number of ports that can handle cruise ships.

The Japanese government set a goal of boosting the number of foreign visitors to 40 million in 2020. As a part of those efforts, the government will set up a booth during the Rio Olympics in August and promote tourist attractions in Japan.

(Nikkei)

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