TOKYO - The Japanese government set a goal of increasing the number of visitors from Southeast Asia by 2.5 times the current level to 2 million in 2016 in its 2013 white paper on tourism adopted Tuesday.
To help meet the target, the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe decided the same day to waive visa requirements for tourists from Thailand and Malaysia and allow the issuance of multiple-entry visas for visitors from the Philippines and Vietnam, starting this summer.
Tokyo will relax travel visa requirements for the fast-growing Southeast Asian nations as part of efforts to boost tourism to spur Japan's economic growth.
"I ask for your cooperation to let many people from around the world directly experience beautiful Japan," Abe told a meeting of Cabinet ministers on tourism.
Of about 8.37 million foreign visitors to Japan in 2012, 780,000 were from Southeast Asia.
The white paper called for more efforts to attract visitors from Southeast Asian countries as they are friendly to Japan and the middle-class and wealthy people have been on the rise there.
The document underlined the need for the Japanese tourism industry to cater to the needs of Muslims, such as those from Indonesia and Malaysia, by offering spaces for prayers at hotels and other places, as well as catering to their dietary habits.
As people from South Korea, China, Taiwan and Hong Kong accounted for about 65 percent of all visitors to Japan in 2012, the white paper called for attracting people from other countries "to establish a system under which foreigners visit Japan in a stable manner regardless of external factors."
The number of Chinese visitors to Japan in the final quarter of 2012 plunged 40 percent from the previous year after Tokyo purchased a major part of the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands, claimed by China and Taiwan, in the East China Sea from a private Japanese owner last September.
The Japanese government aims to raise the number of foreign visitors to Japan to 18 million by 2016 and Abe has presented a long-term goal of boosting the number beyond 30 million by 2030 in his government's draft strategy for economic growth.
As specific measures to promote tourism, the Abe Cabinet adopted an action plan which also calls for stronger efforts to host international conferences in Japan such as by appointing academic and business leaders as special ambassadors, and enhanced overseas promotion of Japan's attractions such as nature, food and traditional culture.