Photo/Illutration The Kuromon Ichiba market in Osaka has few customers in December. (Jin Nishioka)

With the novel coronavirus pandemic raging in Japan and around the world, the number of foreign visitors to Japan fell in 2020 to a level not seen in 22 years.

The Japan Tourism Agency on Jan. 20 announced there were 4,115,900 foreign visitors in 2020, a decrease of 87.1 percent over the previous year.

Restrictions on people’s movements after the outbreak of the novel coronavirus meant the number of foreign visitors dropped dramatically from February 2020 and fell close to zero from March and beyond.

Last year’s figure is lower than even 2011 when the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami unleashed major destruction. Still, 6.21 million foreign visitors came to Japan that year.

The last time the figure has been so low was in 1998 when there were 4.1 million visitors.

After stricter entry restrictions were implemented in March, foreign arrivals fell by 93 percent that month on a year-on-year basis. The decrease was between 97 and 99 percent between April and December.

The government had initially set an annual goal of 40 million visitors in 2020 with high expectations over the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games acting as a draw. But both events were postponed, and the number of foreign visitors only reached about 10 percent of the goal.

It was a far cry from 2019, when Japan saw a record-high 31.88 million foreign arrivals, continuing to top numbers for the seventh straight year.

The market scale had expanded to 4.8 trillion yen ($46 billion), about one-fifth the market of domestic travel, but the pandemic slammed the brakes on that growth trend.

The government at one time during the outbreak relaxed the tougher entry restrictions and allowed business travelers and others on medium- to long-term visas from 11 nations and regions to enter. But that was retracted in the wake of a spread of new variants of the virus.

Though the government has not revised its goal of 60 million foreign visitors in 2030, there is no telling when such a number might be approached.