Japan issued 90,306 visas to foreign nationals in 2021, marking the lowest figure since comparable records were made available in 1999, due to pandemic-related travel restrictions, the Foreign Ministry said Tuesday.

The figure, down from a record-high 8.28 million in the pre-pandemic year of 2019, surpassed the previous record low of 1.12 million in 2020 by 92 percent, the ministry said, as the global spread of the coronavirus led the government to intensify border restrictions on overseas arrivals.

An international arrival lobby is deserted at Haneda airport near Tokyo on Nov. 30, 2021, as Japan banned new entries by foreigners globally for at least one month to stave off the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

Of total visas granted in 2021, Vietnam accounted for the most at 15,434, or 17 percent, followed by China with 12,768, or 14 percent.

The United States, meanwhile, accounted for 9,200 visas issued, or 10 percent. The Philippines and South Korea trailed at 5,406 and 4,671, or 6 percent and 5 percent, respectively.

Japan has gradually begun to loosen its border restrictions to bring them in line with other Group of Seven nations after effectively closing its doors to nonresident foreign nationals to prevent a surge in infections. The measure drew criticism at home and abroad that it was too strict.

Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said earlier this month the country will double the current cap on daily overseas entries from 10,000 to 20,000 from Wednesday. Arrivals have so far been limited to businesspeople, technical interns and students.

But from June 10, Japan will start accepting foreign tourists from 98 countries and regions, and initially limit them to guided tours as a means to reduce the potential spread of infections.