TOKYO: Japan welcomed more than 2 million visitors for an eighth consecutive month in January, official data showed on Wednesday (Feb 21), setting the stage for a potential record year for tourism.

The number of foreign visitors for business and leisure was 2.69 million last month, down slightly from 2.73 million in December, data from the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) showed.

Arrivals in December were an all-time high for that month and capped a pandemic recovery year that saw a little more than 25 million visitors enter the country.

Tourism to Japan all but halted for more than two years during the COVID-19 pandemic. But the industry was dealt a major tailwind last year by rapid depreciation in the yen that made Japan a bargain compared to many destinations.

Inbound tourism is an increasingly important part of Japan’s economy, and visitors spent more than ¥5 trillion (US$33.32 billion) last year for the first time, exceeding the government’s goal.

Arrivals in January were impacted by the major earthquake on Jan 1 in the western prefecture of Ishikawa, JNTO said, though the number was on par with the level in 2019 when Japan welcomed a record 39.9 million tourists.

Travellers from South Korea, Taiwan, and Australia set an all-time record for any single month.

Tourism from China is still far below pre-pandemic levels, when mainland travellers made up nearly a third of all visitors and 40 per cent of tourist spending. But there are signs of life in the segment.

Chinese visitors numbered 415,900 in January, up 33 per cent from the previous month. And department store operators Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings and J Front Retailing said the Chinese New Year contributed to strong sales of luxury goods and duty-free items in the first half of February.

Chinese visitors may be opting for more leisurely travel this year, a trend known as “chill stay”, as opposed to rushed shopping splurges seen in years past, said Teppei Kawanishi, general manager at travel industry consultancy Honichi Lab.

“The style is to go around one sightseeing spot slowly and enjoy it like the locals,” he added.

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