January 18th, 2012
01:13 PM GMT
Hong Kong (CNN) – More than 10 months after the Fukushima meltdown and Japan is still dealing with the fallout - this time the key industry of tourism is reeling from the catastrophe.
According to government figures released Tuesday, the number of foreign nationals entering Japan dropped 24.4% from a record of 9.45 million in 2010 to 7.14 million in 2011.
New entries of foreign nationals - a figure that excludes working or studying expatriates that may have returned after home leave - made a similarly dismal showing. The Immigration Bureau of the Justice Ministry said new entrants fell from 7.92 million in 2010 to 5.45 million in 2010, slumping 31.2%.
The government says a combination of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami and the high level of the Japanese yen were the key factors in the decline.
The Japanese government is already going to extraordinary lengths to woo tourists back to Japan. On Tuesday, Hiroshi Mizohata, the commissioner of the Japan Tourism Agency, reportedly sang the South Korean national anthem at two meetings in Seoul in a bid to lure South Korean tourists back to Japan.
South Koreans form the largest number of foreign visitors to Japan, accounting for 28.3% of foreign visitors in 2010.
A spokeswoman for the Japan National Tourism Organization told CNN that April registered the worst monthly fall in 2011, slumping as much as 80% on the same period a year ago.
“It dropped sharply right after the disaster, but has gradually recovered towards end of the year,” she said. “Initially people were very concerned about the impact of radiation from the disaster, but it seems that visitors who had already been planning to travel to Japan are gradually coming back.”
Nevertheless, she said it would still take time for Japan to return to the heady numbers of 2010.
“We are really hoping that tourists will come and visit Japan during the cherry blossom season this year,” she said.
On the ground, store owners at popular tourist destinations say that 2011 has been the worst year on record.
Shigemi Fuji, owner of a Japanese sweet store at the tourist hotspot of Nakamise Street in Asakusa in Tokyo told CNN that in the immediate aftermath of the disaster, the streets were completely dead.
“I have been in this business here for 60 years, but I’d never experienced anything like it before,” he said.
While tourists were gradually coming back to Asakusa, the combination of the disaster and the economic crisis in Europe was having a negative affect on business, he said.
“Before the disaster, we had tons of foreign tourists coming in big bus groups,” he noted. “While I see about same number of foreigners on the street now, they seem to have tightened their purse strings because of the strong yen and the economic crisis in Europe.”
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