TOKYO — Japan had a record number of foreign visitors last year thanks to a surge in mainland Chinese arrivals, a cheaper yen and looser visa rules, it was announced Tuesday. Under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe Japan has set a target of boosting the number of annual visitors to 20 million by 2020 when Tokyo hosts the Summer Olympics. But already in 2015 19.7 million people visited Japan, 47.1 percent above the previous year, the Japan National Tourism Organization said. As the total number is likely to reach the government’s goal before 2020, officials are considering revising it upward, said Yoshihide Suga, the top government spokesman. “We would like to decide whether to seek one of 30 million or above 30 million,” he told a parliament session Tuesday. The Japanese figures do not differentiate between tourists and other kinds of travelers. By comparison, France drew 83.7 million tourists in 2014 and has a target of 100 million by 2020. Among other moves, Tokyo has made it easier to obtain visas and expanded the coverage of goods that can be purchased duty-free.
A decline in the value of the yen has also helped. Another key factor is China, which sent a record 4.99 million visitors to Japan, more than double the previous year’s figure. China surpassed South Korea in the number of visits and became the largest source of visitors to Japan, the Japan National Tourism Organization said in a statement. It cited improved China-Japan relations, the weaker yen and an overall increase in the number of Chinese going abroad as their country’s economy grows. Visitors from Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan were counted separately. South Korean visitors surged 45 percent to 4.0 million last year, despite sometimes frayed diplomatic relations. The Japan Tourism Agency said total spending by foreign visitors reached a record 3.48 trillion yen (US$29 billion) last year.