The barrier was broken as of Oct. 30, the minister of land, infrastructure, transport and tourism said in announcing the preliminary figures.
The number of foreign visitors in recent years is likely to reach about 24 million by the end of 2016, according to the ministry.
The huge surge in tourists in recent years is mainly attributed to visitors from other Asian countries making use of low-cost carriers and cruise ships.
The number of visitors from January to September 2016 was officially 17.97 million, a rise of 24.1 percent from the same period last year.
There was a 30 percent increase in visitors from China and South Korea in that nine-month period from 2015, respectively.
Tourists from those two nations make up half of foreign visitors to Japan.
Back in 2003, when the Japanese government moved into a higher gear in tourism promotion with the slogan “Visit Japan,” the number of visitors was at 5.21 million.
The number topped 8 million in 2007, but it then grew at a sluggish pace. After hitting the bottom in 2011, when the nation was struck by the Great East Japan Earthquake, the figure bounced back thanks to a weak yen and the deregulation of visa restrictions.
Japan achieved its goal of 10 million foreign visitors annually in 2013, three years behind its original aim.
Since then the number of visitors has exploded, and in March the government reset its target figure, stating it hoped 40 million visitors would arrive by 2020, double the number of its original goal of 20 million.
The 40 million is probably a little optimistic.
The increase in the number of foreign tourists surpassed 50 percent in January this year but it later slowed to less than 20 percent, in comparison to 2015.
The amount spent by each foreign tourist from July to September was between 150,000 yen (US$1,400) and 160,000 yen, a drop from the previous year, suggesting the government’s goal to increase it to 200,000 yen by 2020 is unlikely.
Worldwide, France was the most-visited country in 2015 with 84.45 million foreign tourists. Japan ranked 16th, with 19.73 million visitors, trailing China and Thailand, with 56.88 million and 29.88 million, respectively.
If the number of foreign visitors to Japan increased to 40 million, Japan would be tussling with Italy (50.73 million in 2015) for the sixth spot.
If you want to read this article in Japanese, please see the following link: