TOKYO -- A record 13.4 million foreign tourists came to Japan in 2014, up about 30% from the previous year, according to a Japan National Tourism Organization estimate seen by The Nikkei.
Foreign travelers spent a total of about 2.03 trillion yen ($17.2 billion) during their Japan stays last year. Spending was up more than 40% from a year earlier, according to the JNTO estimate.
Overseas travelers are increasingly a force to be reckoned with in Japan.
In 2011, the number of foreign tourists dropped after the devastating earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdowns hit the east coast of Japan that March. The number of visitors started rising again in 2012, and surpassed the threshold of 10 million for the first time in 2013.
By place, South Korean tourists increased about 10% from a year earlier to 2.75 million. Taiwanese visitors jumped nearly 30% to 2.83 million, some 2.4 million Chinese also came, up more than 80% from 2013. These gains are largely attributed to comparatively cheaper prices because of a weaker yen, as well as increases in flights to the country and port calls by cruise liners.
Foreign tourists spent an excess of 700 billion yen on shopping during their stays in Japan. The figure accounted for about 35% of their total consumption, followed by accommodation at about 30% and dining at roughly 20%. On average, they spent about 151,000 yen per head.
Japan's expansion last October of duty-free items is believed to have contributed to growth in the amount spent shopping. Tax exemption used to be limited only to products such as home electronics appliances and clothes. It has been expanded to cover items such as daily goods and beverages.
Normally, the number of foreign tourists tends to decline in the October to December period. In 2014, however, tourists spent a total of about 560 billion yen during the final three months of the year, up more than 2% from the peak July to September months, according to the JNTO estimate. In particular, Chinese tourists spent about 230,000 yen per person, far surpassing the amounts by visitors from other areas.
Toshihiro Nagahama, chief economist at Dai-ichi Life Research Institute, estimates that tourism-based consumption will boost Japan's gross domestic product by 2.7 trillion yen in value terms.