0232 GMT May 22, 2019
The number of foreign tourists rose to 31.19 million, up 8.7 percent from 2017, according to the Japan Tourism Agency, asia.nikkei.com reported.
Much of the growth was down to tourists from elsewhere in Asia, with visitors from China increasing by 21.8 percent and Thailand by 14.7 percent, the agency said in a report published on Wednesday.
Inbound tourism has risen for seven consecutive years, but the rate of growth slowed down significantly from the previous year's 19 percent. A large earthquake that hit Osaka in June and floods in the western part of the country in July prompted many people to cancel trips they had planned.
In September, the number of visitors fell by 5.3 percent on the year, marking the first decline in almost six years, as typhoon Jebi and an earthquake in Hokkaido brought airports to a standstill in Osaka and Japan's northernmost main island, respectively. On-year numbers turned positive again from October, as transportation and related infrastructure recovered.
The number of foreign visitors to Japan has nearly tripled in the five years since 2013. The relaxation of visa requirements, the rise of budget airlines and the depreciation of the yen have contributed to the country's increased popularity as a destination.
With Tokyo hosting the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics, many analysts expect the 40 million target for next year to be achieved. The government's next goal of attracting 60 million annual visitors by 2030, however, is less certain.
Growth in tourist numbers beyond 2020 will largely depend on competition with other Asian countries, according to analysts.
Thailand, currently Asia's most popular destination, welcomed 34 million people from overseas between January and November, up 7.5 percent from the previous year, according to the country's Ministry of Tourism and Sports. More than one-quarter of them were said to be from China. To maintain the growth momentum, the Thai government has introduced measures to attract more Chinese tourists, such as exempting them from visa-on-arrival fees. The country has set a target of attracting 35 million annual visitors.