TOKYO -- Japan received a record number of overseas visitors in 2017 for the fifth straight year, with the greatest growth coming from Asian countries, where low-cost air carriers are expanding service.
Visitors to Japan in 2017 jumped by 19% from the previous year to 28.69 million. The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism announced on Friday.
Growth in Asian arrivals during the January-November period was high, climbing 41% on the year from South Korea, 31% from Vietnam, 30% from Indonesia, 23% from Hong Kong and 14% from China.
Asian travelers to Japan have soared since 2011, when just 6.22 million people from the region visited. Asia now accounts for roughly 80% of all guests thanks to the growing popularity of cruises and relaxed Japanese visa requirements.
European and American tourists also rose in the January-November period, expanding 11% on the year from the U.S. and 5-7% from such European countries as the U.K., France, Germany and Italy.
The tourism agency created a task force last summer to encourage Australians, Europeans and Americans to vacation in Japan. It will analyze the tourism market in each country to best promote trips to Tokyo and the greater Osaka region as well as more rural regions like Hokkaido.
Spending by foreigners probably topped 4 trillion yen ($35.9 billion) in 2017, up from 3.74 trillion yen the previous year. In addition to shopping by Asian visitors, demand also rose for experiences rooted in traditional Japanese culture. Japan is promoting such theme-based tourism as sake brewing and tours of anime spots to draw guests to rural areas.
The government has a goal of welcoming 40 million international travelers and 8 trillion yen in tourism-related spending in 2020, the year of the Tokyo Summer Olympics. Japan will achieve its visitor goal should it sustain growth of up to 20%, but doubling foreigners' consumption is a higher hurdle.
Japan will have to bring more European and American tourists, who tend to spend heavily, and expand its thin ranks of luxury hotels. The government has also begun debate on how to encourage overseas guests to splurge more at night.