The number of South Korean visitors to Japan dropped to its lowest level in almost a year in July, despite overall growth in foreign tourists, amid escalating bilateral tensions over wartime history and trade policy, government data showed Wednesday.

While the estimated number of foreign visitors in July rose 5.6 percent from a year earlier to 2,991,200, an all-time high for any month, the figure of South Korean tourists fell 7.6 percent to 561,700, ranking second after China at 1,050,500, up 19.5 percent, the Japan Tourism Agency said.

The number for South Korean visitors is the lowest since last September, when the figure fell to 479,733 after Kansai International Airport, the main international gateway by air to the western Japan region, was flooded due to a typhoon.

In contrast, the number of Chinese visitors to the country per month surpassed the 1 million mark for the first time, helped by flight expansions for summer vacationers and relaxing of visa requirements from January, according to the agency.

The agency attributed the decline in the number of South Korean tourists to an economic slump in the Asian neighbor as well as the deterioration in bilateral ties.

The row over wartime labor that developed into a tit-for-tat trade dispute has led to cancellations or reductions of flights linking cities in the two countries and affected new hotel bookings by South Koreans.

South Korean visitors account for some 20 percent of the total overseas tourists in Japan and the decline in their numbers could especially hit the Kyushu region, which is close to South Korea. In the region's Oita Prefecture, 60 percent of overall foreign tourists are from the neighboring country.

By country and region in July, Taiwan came third with 459,200 visitors, down 0.3 percent, followed by Hong Kong with 216,800, also down 4.4 percent.

Visitors from the Philippines jumped 30.5 percent from a year earlier to 37,800, while those from Vietnam soared 21.8 percent to 40,800.

The Japanese government aims to attract 40 million foreign visitors in 2020.

"We are on the right track (to achieve the target)," Japan Tourism Agency Commissioner Hiroshi Tabata said, as data for the first seven months of this year totaled 19,624,800, up 4.8 percent from the same period a year before, marking the highest for the seven-month period.

Related coverage:

China urges Japan, South Korea to resolve dispute through dialogue

S. Korea's Korean Air reviews further suspension of flights to Japan

Seoul businesspeople taking critical look at anti-Japan rally