A record number of foreigners visited Japan last year as the weak yen lured more Chinese shoppers, French gourmets, and fans of Japanese pop culture, though the country still ranks low among holiday destinations.

Helped by the weaker yen, visitors to Japan increased by 14 percent in 2007 to a record-high 8.4 million, the government-affiliated Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO) said in a statement this week.

That lags well behind much smaller Asian countries, such as Singapore which attracted 10.3 million visitors last year due to its popularity as a stop-over on the way to other destinations.

Japan's cabinet on Tuesday approved a plan to set up a tourism agency with the aim of attracting 10 million foreign tourists a year, and their cash, by 2010.

The rising euro and Chinese yuan, along with years of flat or slipping prices in Japan, means the country is not as expensive for many to visit as it once was.

Tales of rich Chinese buying up luxury brand watches in Tokyo's posh Ginza shopping district and Russians asking for all of the tuna at a sushi bar near Tokyo's Tsukiji fish market have caught the eye of Japanese media.

Japanese pop culture has also attracted new visitors to Japan. Young tourists roaming the streets of Tokyo's Akihabara electronics district may see it more as a mecca for Japanese manga comics and anime films.

Travellers from Asia accounted for about 70 percent of total visitors to Japan last year, the JNTO said. Record high tourist numbers were seen from South Korea, at 2.6 million, and China with 943,000 visitors.

Visitors from France were also the highest-ever, which JNTO said was helped by the publication of several guidebooks on Japan, including the Michelin guide to dining out in Tokyo, the first on an Asian city by the renowned French publication.

Figures for 2007 were not immediately available but the government says spending by foreign visitors jumped more than 20 percent to 1.4 trillion yen ($13 billion) in the year to last March.