Japan said visitors are set to top 10 million this year for the first time as a weaker yen lowers costs for travelers from abroad.

The nation will probably welcome its 10 millionth visitor of the year in the middle of this month, Shigeto Kubo, head of the Japan Tourism Agency, told reporters in Tokyo today. The previous annual record was 8.6 million in 2010.

Chinese visitors to Japan increased 96 percent from a year earlier to 101,900 last month, even as China’s announcement of an air-defense zone over islands in East China Sea ratcheted up tensions between the two nations. Japan is aiming to more than double the number of visitors by 2020 to boost the economy as a shrinking population damps demand for domestic travel.

Japan “has realized the importance of tourism,” said Mitsushige Akino, who oversees the equivalent of about $500 million in assets in Tokyo at Ichiyoshi Investment Management Co. “The weaker yen has helped boost visitors and the country has also benefited from a concerted effort by the government to promote itself abroad.”

The yen has weakened about 20 percent versus the dollar in the past 12 months.

As many as 9.5 million people visited Japan in the 11 months to November, surpassing the previous annual record set in 2010, the year before the nation was hit by a record earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown, the Japan National Tourism Organization said today.

Disputed Islands

“The correction of the strong yen makes Japanese goods comparatively cheap,” said Kubo. “Easing of visa restrictions has also had a big impact.”

Japan’s banks also plan to improve access for travelers by installing automated teller machines that accept credit cards issued overseas, the Tourism Agency said in a statement.

Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ Ltd., Mizuho Bank Ltd. and Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp. agreed to increase the number of ATMs as Japan prepares to host the Summer Olympics in 2020, according to the statement. A total of 16 percent of visitors to Japan said they were unhappy with credit card use and currency exchange, according to a survey of 901 people in 2011 cited by the Agency.

Visitors from China, the world’s second-largest economy, plummeted last year after Japan purchased some of the disputed islands from a private citizen, triggering protests and a boycott of Japanese goods. Kubo today said there was no evidence that the number of Chinese tourists declined after China announced the zone on Nov. 23.

Japan is aiming to boost the number of visitors to 25 million by 2020, according to a plan released last year. The nation’s population is forecast to decline 25 percent from 2005 to 95.2 million by 2050 as fewer children are born, according to the government.

The number of people visiting Japan is still behind those going abroad. About 14.6 million Japanese traveled overseas in the 10 months to October, according to JNTO.

Editors: Dave McCombs, Vipin V. Nair. To contact the editor responsible for this story: Vipin V. Nair at vnair12@bloomberg.net. 

Photo Credit: Kyoto during Cherry Blossom season. lazy fri13th / Flickr