The number of foreigners who visited Japan in 2014 surged to 13,413,600, an increase of 29.4 per cent from the previous year, marking a record high for the second consecutive year, Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Minister Akihiro Ota announced Tuesday.
The number of visitors topped the 10 million threshold for the first time in 2013, at 10,363,904 people.
Reasons behind the increase seem to include the falling cost of trips to Japan and shopping in the country due to the weaker yen, in addition to an expansion of the scope of items exempt from consumption tax for foreigners visiting the nation.
The government has set a goal of boosting the annual foreign tourist tally to 20 million by 2020. At a press conference after a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Ota stressed the figure was a positive sign, saying: "Achieving the goal is becoming more likely. We expect the number of foreign visitors to exceed the 15 million mark this year."
By country or region of origin, the number of visitors from Taiwan was highest at 2,829,800, up 28 per cent from the previous year. Next was South Korea with 2,755,300, up 12.2 per cent, and China with 2,409,200, up 83.3 per cent.
The 2014 figure saw a boost as the number of tourists from South Korea and China - which had temporarily dropped due to issues over the Senkaku Islands and the Takeshima islets - has recovered.
The number of visitors from Thailand and Malaysia, where visa requirements for tourists have been lifted since July 2013, rose more than 40 per cent.
Sixteen of the top 18 countries and regions of origin for foreign visitors to Japan, including China, France, Malaysia, Taiwan and the United States, broke their records.
Consumption by foreign visitors is also brisk. The amount spent by foreign tourists to Japan reached 2 trillion yen (S$22.5 billion) for the first time in 2014.
In October of last year the government added cosmetics and food items to the list of tax-free goods. This also encouraged consumption by foreign tourists at outlets such as department stores.
Daimaru Matsuzakaya Department Stores Co. saw a 1.4 per cent drop in total sales in December, from the figure for the same month of the previous year, but its sales of tax-free articles to foreign visitors saw a 3.6-fold increase.
Another contributing factor is the increase in departure and arrival slots for international flights at airports.
In 2014, new routes connecting Haneda Airport to cities overseas, including Hanoi and Toronto, were put into service. Low-cost carriers also began to offer services on new routes connecting mainly with Asian cities from Narita and Kansai International airports, prompting the rise in the number of visitors from overseas.
Cruise ships have brought many tourists, too, mainly from China, by making stops at Japanese ports.
The number of non-Japanese nationals who entered Japan in 2014 hit a record high of 14.15 million, an increase of 2.89 million, or 25.7 per cent, from the previous year, the Justice Ministry announced Tuesday.
The figure includes not only tourists but also those with permanent residency who reentered the nation, while it excludes passengers who entered the nation for short sightseeing tours ahead of boarding connecting flights.