BY MAGDALENA OSUMI
The number of new, short-term visitors to Japan hit a record high of 27.05 million last year, according to data showing arrivals from overseas by their visa status released by the Justice Ministry for the first time.
New visitors staying for 90 days or less were the largest group of all arrivals and accounted for 98.1 percent of the total number, officials with the ministry’s Immigration Bureau Intelligence Center said, citing the report on migration trends released Wednesday.
“We believe this (growing) trend will continue,” an intelligence center official said, pointing to a near 10 percent rise from the previous year in the number of first-time visitors.
The officials said the trend has contributed to the increase in the total number of visitors, including repeat visitors, which numbered 30.1 million in 2018 — the highest figure since the ministry introduced its record system in 1989.
The ministry’s figures differ from the Japan Tourism Agency figures on foreign visitors released earlier this month, as the ministry includes the number of foreign people with a permanent or longtime residency status returning to Japan, as well as spouses of Japanese nationals.
A record 18.95 million Japanese nationals departed from Japan in 2018, up 6 percent from a year before, the ministry said.
From April the nation expects to see an influx of foreign laborers since it enacted a law in December to let in foreign nationals with certain job skills, including blue-collar workers, under two new visa categories. Japan is expecting to accept up to 345,000 in the first five years.
The ministry revealed that Japan accepted some 140,000 foreigners coming to the country for the first time under its technical trainee program in 2018, up 14.8 percent from a year before, while some 120,000 people came to study, up 0.8 percent.
After the technical trainee system was revised in November 2017 to enable some organizations to let interns who completed the three-year program return for another one or two years, 5,712 people re-entered as technical trainees in 2018, the ministry said.
In terms of the countries from which visitors originated, the largest number came from South Korea, followed by China and Taiwan. The number of Chinese visitors showed the largest year-on-year increase, of 23 percent, the report said.
Visitors from Asian countries such as Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore were among the top 10 nationalities among last year’s visitors.
The officials said, however, that last year’s brutal summer — with earthquakes, torrential rains, heat waves and a typhoon — temporarily impacted travels to Japan between July and December. The ministry’s data showed that the number of visitors from South Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan dropped during the period compared with the previous year. But tourism rebounded by the end of the year, officials said.