Japan International Visitors Reach 96% of Pre-Covid Level in Sept

REUTERS/Issei Kato/File Photo
Tourists from abroad wait for Yokozuna Tonkatsu Dosukoi Tanaka, a sumo wrestling themed restaurant to open, in Tokyo, Japan June 30, 2023.

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan welcomed more than 2 million international visitors for a fourth consecutive month in September, official data showed on Wednesday, marking a near full recovery to pre-pandemic levels even though the Chinese market has been slow to rebound.

The number of foreign visitors for business and leisure was 2.18 million last month, data from the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) showed, up slightly from 2.16 million in August.

Visitor numbers improved to 96.1% of levels seen in 2019 before the outbreak of COVID-19 led to travel curbs around the world.

Japan ended some of the world’s strictest COVID-19 border restrictions a year ago when it resumed visa-free travel for many countries, and went on to scrap all remaining controls in May.

Arrivals have maintained a rapid recovery pace, peaking at 2.32 million in July, as airlines added more international flights and the yen’s slide to a near 33-year low made Japan a bargain destination.

“With inflation in the United States, everything is outrageously expensive, and coming here, it’s a lot cheaper,” John Hardisty, a 48-year-old engineer from Hawaii, said during a recent shopping trip in Tokyo. “It’s like a night and day difference.”

The number of visitors arriving from 15 markets, including the U.S., South Korea and Singapore, reached record levels for the month of September, the JNTO said. Travelers from Mexico were a record for any month.

The strong demand from those markets is helping to compensate for traveler figures from mainland China that are still 60% below 2019, when Chinese accounted for nearly a third of all visitors and 40% of all tourist spending in Japan.

More than 17 million visitors have arrived in Japan in the first nine months of 2023, JNTO data showed, still far from the record of about 32 million in 2019.