World Heritage Site Shirakawago village, Japan and winter illumination (Shutterstock/Sakarin Sawasdinaka)
The estimated number of foreign visitors to Japan in January increased 7.5 percent from a year earlier to 2,689,400, an all-time high for the month, supported by the relaxation of visa rules for Chinese tourists, official data showed Wednesday.
By country and region, visitors from South Korea were the most numerous at 779,400, down 3 percent from a year earlier, followed by those from China at 754,400, up 19.3 percent, Taiwan at 387,500, up 10.5 percent, and Hong Kong at 154,300, down 3.9 percent, according to the data released by the Japan Tourism Agency
Hiroshi Tabata, commissioner of the agency, said the impact of a series of natural disasters last year, including a deadly earthquake that hit the northernmost main island of Hokkaido in September, has been subsiding.
Tabata, however, said the pace of growth has not returned to the levels seen in the first half of 2018, partly because visitors from South Korea and Hong Kong are not recovering.
In January, Japan relaxed visa requirements for Chinese citizens. In recent years, increasingly wealthy people from China are traveling independently to foreign countries and are now less likely to join tour groups.
The number of visitors from a number of other countries rose in the reporting month. Travelers from Vietnam jumped 27.8 percent from a year ago to 35,400, while those from Australia, many of whom head to Japan's mountains on skiing holidays, renewed a monthly record of 81,100, up 16.0 percent.
On the trend of visitors traveling around the time of the Lunar New Year holiday season celebrated by some Asian countries in February, Tabata said, "It is relatively good and I think the figure rose about 20 percent from last year."