epa05761174 Chinese securities company workers coming from Canton (or Guangdong) enjoy Japanese sweets at Nakamise Street, in Tokyo downtown of Asakusa, Japan, 30 January 2017 as they visit Japan for a week during the Lunar New Year holidays. They said they will be staying in Tokyo for four days and others for three days during the holidays. It is said more than 500,000 Chinese tourist visit Japan during the holidays.  EPA/KIMIMASA MAYAMA
© EPA

The number of tourists visiting Japan hit a record high of 7.2m in the second quarter of 2017, with the booming tourism industry buoyed by a jump in visitors from neighbouring Asian nations.

Tourist numbers in the three months from April to July were up 21.1 per cent compared with the same period a year ago, according to the Japan Tourism Agency. Tourist spending during the period rose 13 per cent year-on-year to a record ¥1.8tn ($15.8bn).

The figures suggest that inbound tourism — one of the main engines for Japan’s economic growth in recent years — continues to grow strongly, fuelled by recent yen weakness.

“Spending by tourists from Korea, Hong Kong and other countries was higher than last year, pushing up the total,” said the JTA. The yen is trading at about ¥112 per dollar, having been closer to ¥100 a year ago.

The number of tourists in the quarter from South Korea rose 68 per cent year-on-year to 1.7m, from Hong Kong 38 per cent to 593,000 and Taiwan 8 per cent to 1.3m.

However, visitor numbers from China, the mainstay of Japan’s tourism boom, rose just 1.8 per cent to 1.6m, while there was robust growth in visitors from the US, up 15 per cent to 404,000.

Tourism has grown rapidly in Japan after years in which it was considered too expensive, remote and difficult to visit. Japan achieved its target of 20m annual tourists by 2020 five years early and its new goal is 40m.

The government of Shinzo Abe, prime minister, has placed tourism at the centre of its growth strategy. Its decision to relax visa restrictions on visitors from China and other developing Asian countries is one of the biggest factors behind the boom.

"Culinary tourism is massive for Japan, as is the power of inbound retail tourists, particularly young Chinese," said Simon Moriarty, who follows the leisure and tourism industries for market researchers Mintel in London.

"With the impending Rugby World Cup and Olympics over the next 3 years, Japan also forms a core part of the tourism triumvirate: the other two being the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, and the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. As such growth of inbound tourism is likely to continue to surge."

Spending per visitor to Japan for the quarter fell 6.7 per cent compared with the same period last year to ¥149,248 ($1,332), reflecting an increased proportion of more cost-conscious, short-haul visitors from countries such as South Korea.

However, consumption by Chinese tourists, whose shopping habits have provided a lifeline to Tokyo department stores, rose 2.5 per cent to ¥225,485 ($2,013).

Separate figures showed a steady decline in business for Japan’s main tour operators, with domestic tourism by Japanese citizens down 3.1 per cent, and foreign travel slipping 2.4 per cent.

Combined with the growth of inbound tourism, the decline in outbound travel means Japan now has a surplus on travel income, a turnaround from huge deficits during its years of rapid economic growth.

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