The 2016 figure, calculated by JASSO as of May 1st last year, represented an additional 31,000 students compared with the previous year.
In 2016, there were 171,122 students at higher education institutions, a 12.5 per cent increase compared with the previous year, while there were an additional 68,165 long-term students at Japanese language institutes, a 21 per cent rise.
China remained the largest source market and increased by 4.6 per cent to 94,111 students, representing 41.2 per cent of all overseas enrolments in Japan last year.
The most significant growth came from second-placed Vietnam, which increased by 38.4 per cent to 53,807 - an additional 14,925 students compared with 2015. The Vietnamese increase was roughly split between higher education institutions and long-term language schools.
In StudyTravel Magazine's recent Vietnam Agency Survey article, there was a 52 per cent average business growth in the higher education sector among reporting agencies.
A Ministry of Education official quoted in The Japan Times attributed the growth to the rise in Japanese companies establishing themselves in Vietnam and the role of Vietnamese agencies in promoting study in Japan.
All of the top 10 source countries increased last year, with significant growth from: third-placed Nepal at 19.8 per cent; Taiwan in fifth place (13.9); Indonesia (28.6); Sri Lanka (72); and Myanmar (39.8).
In 2014/15, Japan became the most popular higher education destination for Nepalese students, according to data released by the Ministry of Education.
Last year, Uttam Pant, President of agency association the International Education Representatives' Initiative of Nepal (IERIN), advised StudyTravel Magazine, "Some pioneering Nepalese agents have good relationships with Japanese universities; other agents mostly work with some colleges or language schools."
Kanto, which includes Tokyo, was the largest host region of international students with 132,927 students, followed by the Kinki region (including Osaka and Kyoto) on 40,395 and Kyushu (26,292). All areas of Japan experienced an increase during 2016.
Waseda University, a private institution in Tokyo, was the largest host campus with 4,767 international students, followed by the University of Tokyo (3,260) and Tokyo University of Social Welfare (3,000).
Ryota Hasegawa, an Admissions Officer at Waseda University, told StudyTravel Magazine, "Increasing international students is one of the measures for globalising our campuses." Waseda University is pursuing a Top Global University Project with a target of 10,000 international students among other measures. The main recruitment markets for the institution in 2016 were China, Korea, Taiwan, the USA and Indonesia.
In higher education institutions, social science was the most common study field for international students, representing 35.6 per cent of the 171,122 students enrolled, followed by humanities (25.2) and engineering (16.2).
Japanese agency association JAOS has been working with Japanese universities to educate about working with agencies and encourage their usage to meet recruitment targets. "We believe that we have put enough effort to raise their awareness of agents by conducting several seminars last year," said Executive Secretary of JAOS, Tatsu Hoshino.
In 2015, JAOS hosted a presentation for a delegation of Japanese universities at the StudyTravel Alphe Japan conference, while some institutions indicated to StudyTravel Magazine that they were considering moving into more agent-based recruitment in a special Tertiary Focus Japan article last year.
By Matthew Knott