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Foreign visitors to Japan in 2020 plunge 87.1%, biggest drop on record

Narita International Airport near Tokyo is seen deserted in this Nov. 12, 2020 file photo. (Mainichi/Tadakazu Nakamura)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Foreign visitors to Japan in 2020 plunged 87.1 percent from a year earlier, the biggest drop since 1964 when comparable data became available, the Japan Tourism Agency said Wednesday, as the coronavirus pandemic threw cold water on the country's inbound tourism boom.

    The number of foreigners visiting the country last year plummeted to 4.12 million, the agency said, in a devastating blow to the government's ambition to welcome 40 million foreign visitors in 2020 when the country was originally scheduled to host the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

    The Summer Games were postponed for a year due to the pandemic.

    In May, the number of visitors to the country dropped 99.9 percent from a year earlier to 1,663 as the government implemented strict border controls in an attempt to curb the spread of the virus.

    Monthly arrivals have crept up since the summer with the government partially easing entry restrictions. In December, the number of foreign visitors stood at 58,700, still down 97.7 percent from a year earlier for the 15th month of decline, the data showed.

    By country and region, the largest number of people traveled to Japan from China at 1,069,200, a decline of 88.9 percent from a year earlier, followed by 694,500 Taiwanese travelers, down 85.8 percent, and 487,900 South Koreans, down 91.3 percent.

    The annual number of Japanese traveling overseas fell to some 3.17 million, a decline of 84.2 percent, the largest since comparable data became available.

    The government's target of attracting 60 million travelers from abroad in 2030 remains.

    It plans to set up a health consultation center for tourists in April as it prepares to start allowing small group tours.

    "It will be a large factor in spurring international tourism," Atsumi Gamo, the commissioner of the Japan Tourism Agency, told reporters Wednesday.

    In response to a recent spike in infections, the Japanese government reimposed an entrance restriction in late December while declaring a monthlong state of emergency on Jan. 7 for Tokyo and three neighboring prefectures, later expanding it to seven other prefectures out of a total of 47 prefectures.

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