June 21, 2024

The number of foreign visitors to Japan climbed more than sixfold to 25.07 million in 2023 from a year earlier, gaining a boost from the removal of COVID-19 travel restrictions and a weak yen, with their spending growing to a record 5.29 trillion yen ($36 billion), government data showed Wednesday.

Spending by foreign visitors exceeded 5 trillion yen for the first time since 2010 when the data began to be compiled, a target the Japanese government has set as it bolsters efforts to revive the tourism industry following the coronavirus pandemic.

As for the estimated number of overseas visitors, last year’s total of 25,066,100 was still 21.4 percent lower than the pre-pandemic level of 2019, which saw a record high 31.88 million arrivals, according to data from the Japan National Tourism Organization.

Tokyo’s Ginza shopping district is crowded with visitors on Jan. 17, 2024. (Kyodo)

The largest number of travelers came from South Korea at 6.96 million, up more than sixfold from 2022, followed by Taiwan at 4.20 million, China at 2.43 million and Hong Kong at 2.11 million.

Visits from China were sluggish compared with 9.59 million in 2019, likely because Beijing eased travel restrictions later than others and the number of flights operating between the two countries has not substantially increased.

The number of travelers from the United States, meanwhile, jumped to 2.05 million, a sixfold rise from 2022.

Taiwanese visitors spent the most amount of money at 778.6 billion yen, comprising 14.7 percent of the overall total, followed by 759.9 billion yen by Chinese and 744.4 billion yen by South Koreans, according to the Japan Tourism Agency.

Of the total spending, the largest portion of 34.6 percent, or 1.8 trillion yen, went for accommodation, followed by shopping expenses and those for wining and dining, which stood at 1.4 trillion yen and 1.2 trillion yen, respectively.

“People are staying longer in the country compared with before the pandemic” to experience the country’s nature, culture and food, Japan Tourism Agency Commissioner Ichiro Takahashi told a press conference.

The average amount spent per visitor to Japan came to about 212,000 yen, with Spaniards spending the most at around 342,000 yen, followed by Australians and Italians. Among Asians, Chinese spent around 320,000 yen.

While the record spending figure is welcome news, Japan has been struggling with visitors who exploit its duty-free shopping scheme, such as by apparently profiting from reselling such items before they leave the country.

Currently, visitors who stay in Japan for less than six months can purchase merchandise with the consumption tax deducted. But there have been cases in which foreigners were no longer in possession of those items upon departure.

The government is considering overhauling the tax-free system so visitors pay tax-inclusive prices and apply for refunds once the purchased items are confirmed when they leave.

In December alone, the number of visitors to Japan stood at 2.73 million, nearly doubling from a year earlier and hitting a record high for the month.

Japan’s removal of its coronavirus restrictions in April has been pushing up the number of visitors, with the monthly figure surpassing a pre-pandemic level for the first time in October.

Meanwhile, the number of Japanese traveling overseas in 2023 more than tripled to 9.62 million from a year earlier, but it was roughly half the number seen in 2019.

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