KOTA KINABALU: The number of Malaysian tourists travelling to Japan increased by 41 per cent from 176,713 in 2013 to 249,500 last year, the highest since 2006.
Head of Consular Office of Japan in Kota Kinabalu, Hirofumi Morikawa, said Malaysia ranked second in visitors’ arrivals to Japan after Thailand in ASEAN countries last year.
In January 2015 alone, 12,300 Malaysians have travelled to Japan.
Morikawa said this during the 2015 Visit Japan Travel Trade Meet in Malaysia organized by the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) at the Hyatt Regency Kinabalu here on Tuesday evening.
Thirteen Japanese local government agencies and suppliers flew all the way here to take part in the event which was held for the first time in Kota Kinabalu. .
Morikawa said the government of Japan had abolished the requirement of short-term visa for Malaysian nationals who held ordinary biometric passports.
He said since the revival of the direct flights from Kota Kinabalu to Narita beginning October 2013, Malaysians were able to visit Japan conveniently with three flights weekly in six hours, which resulted in a significant increase of Malaysians travelling to the country.
Morikawa said many Malaysians who had travelled to Japan were Muslims.
“Recently, many Muslim-friendly facilities have been set up in Japan, for example prayer rooms and halal restaurants.
“In relation to this, JNTO has prepared a guidebook and a special website especially for Muslim tourists.”
On the event, Morikawa said the travel agencies which took part in the fair offered tour packages to Japan, especially Tohoku region which was recovering from the big earthquake.
“Tohoku region is famous for its beautiful mountains and lakes, high quality rice and wonderful hot springs.”
He said JNTO had invited not only travel agencies but also about 150 members of the general public interested to visit Japan in the Sixth Visit Japan Travel Trade Meet in Kota Kinabalu.
“This is the first time we have sent invitations of this fair to the general public.”
Morikawa said the Embassy of Japan, the Consular Office of Japan in Kota Kinabalu, Japan Tourism Agency and JNTO would continue to promote Japan as a good travel destination for Malaysian tourists.
The Embassy of Japan (Malaysia) and JNTO recently awarded 10 major local travel agencies in Malaysia the Japan Tourism Award for their outstanding contribution towards achieving the highest record of Malaysian visitor arrivals to Japan in 2014.
Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (MATTA) received the JNTO Special Award for its exemplary commitment to the Japan tourism market in Malaysia.
In 2003, under the Visit Japan Campaign initiative, the Japanese government set a target of attracting 10 million visitors by 2010.
Despite the Great East Japan earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, Japan has made a full recovery and achieved its goal of reaching 10 million visitors in 2013.
It set another record with 13.41 million visitors last year.
The Japan Tourism Agency (JTA) and JNTO target to raise the number of inbound tourists to 18 million by 2015 and 20 million by 2020.
JNTO Singapore will continue to work hard to promote Japan as a preferred destination for visitors from Singapore, Malaysia and India.
Also present at the travel fair were JNTO Singapore executive director Hideki Manabe, JNTO Singapore, Malaysia and India deputy director Susan Maria Ong, Sabah Tourism Board deputy general manager Gordon C. Yapp and Popular Express Travel Sdn Bhd general manager Candy Chung F. L.