Photo/IllutrationFukuoka's Nakasu district, known for its "yatai" food stands, has been popular among tourists from South Korea and China. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Tourism to Japan from South Korea is taking a hit as tensions escalate between the two countries over export restrictions and longstanding differences over historical issues.

The number of South Koreans that traveled to this country in July fell to 561,700, a 7.6 percent drop year on year, the Japan Tourism Agency (JTA) announced Aug. 21.

The reduction was the first since May, when there was a 5.8 percent drop. It was the steepest fall this year after a 11.3 percent decline in April when it was difficult to book flights and hotels owing to an extended holiday season in Japan, according to the JTA.

Experts believe that one of the reasons South Koreans have refrained from visiting Japan is a series of ongoing disputes between their respective governments.

In July, Japan introduced stricter control measures on exports to South Korea of materials for making semiconductors and displays used in smartphones and other devices.

Tourism from South Korea has fallen below year-earlier levels since the latter half of 2018, partly owing to travelers choosing a wider variety of destinations and the stagnation of economic growth, according to the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO).

As relations between the two governments deteriorated in July, travel reservations were canceled or slowed, mainly among those on group trips, the JNTO said.

With regard to overall tourism, the number of visitors to Japan rose in July to 2,991,200, up 5.6 percent year on year and a record high. The drop in South Korean visitors therefore stood out.

Hiroshi Tabata, the JTA's commissioner, said at a news conference, "While there are various matters to be resolved between the two nations, it is important to promote exchanges through tourism."

However, the negative influence of the tensions has spread, leading to the postponement of some campaigns jointly organized by the JNTO and South Korean travel companies.

In 2018, about 7.5 million people visited Japan from South Korea, about one-quarter of all tourists to Japan, and they spent about 590 billion yen ($5.54 billion).

Michinori Naruse, deputy chief researcher of the Japan Research Institute, said: “The July figure for South Korean tourists mainly represents those who made reservations before the recent escalation of tensions.

"After August, a further drop in tourists from South Korea can be expected," Naruse added, noting that the impact would be felt most strongly in Kyushu, Osaka, Okinawa and Hokkaido, where many South Koreans stay when they visit.