The number of foreign visitors to Kagawa Prefecture, which includes the cities of Takamatsu, Sanuki and Higashi-Kagawa, rose 3.4-fold from the previous year, taking the No. 1 spot, according to Rakuten Inc., operator of the Rakuten Travel website.
The prefecture was unable to crack the top 10 in 2015.
The number of tourists from abroad tripled in Okayama Prefecture, which covers Okayama city, on a year-on-year basis, putting it second in the ranking. The prefecture also failed to make the top 10 in the previous survey.
The survey was based on lodging bookings made through Rakuten Travel in foreign languages in 2016.
“Tokyo, Osaka and other ‘golden tourist routes’ have traditionally been popular, but they (overseas tourists) have recently started visiting other areas,” a Rakuten official said.
Behind the increases in Kagawa and Okayama prefectures was the popularity of the Setouchi Triennale contemporary art festival, which is held once every three years on islands in the Seto Inland Sea, according to Rakuten officials.
Around 1.04 million people attended the 2016 festival, which was held from March to November. And 13.4 percent of them were from abroad, five times more than three years ago, according to the Setouchi Triennale Executive Committee.
Taiwanese made up 37.2 percent of the foreign visitors at the festival, followed by tourists from Hong Kong and mainland China.
Ferries in Kagawa and Okayama prefectures took visitors to festival sites on Naoshima and other islands in Kagawa Prefecture, indicating a rising number of festival-goers lodged in Okayama Prefecture.
The popularity of the two prefectures was fueled by an increased number of international flights.
Only four flights a week connecting Takamatsu Airport and Taipei are normally available. But the number was raised to six during the art festival.
A budget carrier opened a route linking the airport with Hong Kong in July.
In addition, a low-cost carrier route opened in July connecting Okayama Airport with Taipei, the first such route for the Chugoku and Shikoku regions.
A Rakuten survey showed lodging reservations in Okayama city by Taiwanese quadrupled in 2016 from the previous year.
The “henro” foot pilgrimage in the Shikoku region has also grown in popularity among foreign tourists.
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