Japan welcomed a record number of foreign tourists, 16.63 million, in the first six months of this year, according to official data released Wednesday.

The Japan National Tourism Organization said that between January and June, spending by foreign visitors reached close to $22 billion, 8.3 percent more than the same period last year.

In 2018, a record 31 million tourists traveled to Japan, an 8.7 percent increase as compared to the previous year.

The government has set a target of 40 million annual visitors by 2020, when the Japanese capital will host the Olympic Games.

By nationality, 4.53 million tourists from China came to Japan in the first half of 2019, an increase of 11.7 percent with respect to the same period last year.

In contrast, the number of visitors from South Korea fell 3.8 percent to stand at 3.86 million.

Some 875,200 tourists from the United States visited Japan, a rise of 13.1 percent over the same period last year and around 51,500 from Spain, up 10.4 percent.

The biggest half-yearly increase among the top 20 countries was posted by Vietnam, with a jump of 30.2 percent to 253,000 tourists. EFE-EPA