The estimated number of foreign tourists to Japan reached a record high 31.19 million in 2018, up 8.7 percent from the previous year and rising for the seventh straight year, Japan's tourism minister said Friday.
Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Minister Keiichi Ishii credited the growth to relaxation of visa requirements for travelers from such countries as Russia, India and the Philippines, as well as promotions overseas.
"The government's efforts have brought the desired result," said Ishii. "There is a sign of us hitting the 40 million mark on the horizon."
The government is targeting 40 million annual foreign visitors by 2020, when Japan hosts the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. The Japan Tourism Agency will release a detailed report on foreign visitors in 2018, including a regional breakdown, next Wednesday.
Growth in the number of foreign visitors continued throughout the year except for September, when the number posted a year-on-year decline following a strong typhoon and major earthquake that led to temporary shutdowns of airports in Osaka and Hokkaido, respectively.
Earlier this week, Japan started collecting a 1,000 yen ($9) departure tax from every traveler leaving Japan. The government will use the revenue to promote tourism, Ishii said.