July 17 (UPI) -- More than 16 million foreigners visited Japan in the first half of 2019 -- an increase of nearly 5 percent over last year, official data said Wednesday.
Government figures showed relaxed visa restrictions increased travel from China, from which 4.5 million visitors came in the first six months of this year -- an increase of 12 percent. Visitors from South Korea declined by nearly 4 percent and Taiwanese tourists by 1 percent.
Japanese figures said nearly 3 million foreign visitors arrived in June alone -- a new record for the month.
The increased tourism is a positive signal for Japan, which will host two major international sporting events over the next 12 months. The Rugby World Cup spans from Sept. 20 to Nov. 2 -- and the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo will be held July 24 to Aug. 9 next summer.
Officials said tourism in Japan declined last year after a 6.1-magnitude earthquake hit Osaka a year ago.
The Japan Tourism Agency said visitor spending has also reached a record level this year, up 8 percent to $22 billion between January and July.