TOKYO -- Japan is enjoying a tourism boom, with the number of foreign visitors rising at a rapid clip and their voracious spending propping up the domestic economy.
Some 9.73 million foreign travelers visited Japan in the first nine months of this year, an increase of 26% on the year, the Japan National Tourism Organization said on Wednesday.
The number of foreign visitors has likely crossed 10 million since September, and is on course to approach 13 million before year's end. With Japan's economic recovery more gradual than hoped, the lively shopping done by foreign tourists is playing an increasing role in Japan's consumer spending.
Spending by foreigners reached 487.4 billion yen ($4.5 billion) for the April-June period, marking a record for the second consecutive quarter, according to the Japan Tourism Agency. The average individual tourist spent 143,942 yen, 6% higher than in the year-earlier period.
Duty-free sales totaled 42.4 billion yen at 46 stores from January to September, according to the Japan Department Stores Association. That exceeds the 38.4 billion yen logged in all of 2013. Department stores in big cities, in particular, enjoyed brisk sales. At Mitsukoshi's Ginza store in Tokyo, sales of tax-exempt items accounted for 25% of sales in the first seven days of October, which coincided with a Chinese national holiday.
Granvista Hotels & Resorts is renovating its Ginza Grand Hotel, anticipating 30% of customers to be foreign visitors. Fujita Kanko, owner of the hotel chain Washington Hotels and others, began building business hotels with larger rooms in 2013.
In September, confectionery maker Morinaga began decorating packages sold at Narita Airport and elsewhere with illustrations evocative of Japan, depicting Mt. Fuji and five-story pagodas. It also used the words "Made in Japan" to appeal to foreign visitors.