The number of Japanese tourists travelling to the UK is expected to reach its highest level since 2007, as the two countries strengthen economic and cultural ties.

VisitBritain expects visitors from Japan to reach 270,000 in 2019, a 9% increase on 2017.

Spending by Japanese visitors in the UK is expected to reach £285 million this year, up from £250 million in 2017.

Visitors from Japan spent £1,011 on average per visit in the UK in 2017, compared to an overall average of £625.

Japanese travellers will be able to use ePassport gates to enter the UK from the summer as part of a government’s commitment to develop a new global immigration system as the UK leaves the EU.

The ePassport gates, which are currently available for British and EU nationals, provide a faster route through the border as they allow eligible passengers to be processed quickly and securely.

Growing airline connectivity with a new British Airways route between London and Osaka from April is also expected to boost visitor numbers.

The news comes as Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe visits the UK tomorrow (Thursday).

UK tourism minister Michael Ellis said: “The UK and Japan have strong cultural, artistic and sporting ties and this is translating into increased visitor numbers to our shores.

“Tourism is good for our understanding of each other’s cultures and can help strengthen our economies.

“With thousands of Brits expected to travel to Japan for the Rugby World Cup this year and the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, our continued close relationship will benefit both nations.”

VisitBritain director Patricia Yates added: “Japan is an important market for VisitBritain and we want the UK to be the number one destination in Europe for Japanese visitors, so it is encouraging to see the expected growth this year.

“A passion for rugby is a strong connection between our countries and the Rugby World Cup in Japan this year also provides us with a valuable opportunity to promote Britain internationally as the ‘home of rugby’ and our associated destinations and tourism experiences.

“Tourism is a fiercely competitive global industry and we continue promote the message of welcome and value, working with partners to make it easier to travel here and promote the amazing experiences that Japanese travellers can only have in Britain.”