Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun also hoped that Malaysia Airlines (MAS) would also reinstate the Osaka-Kota Kinabalu route.
For VMY 2014, Malaysia targeted 28 million arrivals, 600,000 of them from Japan, he said at the Malaysia Appreciation and Visit Malaysia Year 2014 Cocktail Reception and dinner at Peninsula Hotel here last Wednesday.
"We seek and need your help and continuous support in order to achieve the 600,000 Japanese tourist arrivals; of which I wish to request to please bring seven per cent or 40,000 to visit Sabah," he told the Japanese tourism industry players.
Also present were Datuk Shaharuddin Md Som, the Ambassador of Malaysia to Japan, Noor Azlan, Director of Tourism Malaysia in Tokyo and Datuk Irene Benggon Charuruks, General Manager of Sabah Tourism Board.
"Japanese arrivals to Sabah in 2012 decreased by 17.6 per cent from 31,554 in 2011 to only 26,000 in 2012. The decline was due to Malaysia Airlines cancellations of the Tokyo and Osaka direct flights to Kota Kinabalu.
"Last year (January to November 2013), Japanese arrivals increased by 27.6 per cent to 27, 992," he said, adding that for example H.I.S Travel increased their sales to Sabah by 64 per cent with a total arrival of 12,800 tourists. To make this possible, H.I.S Travel brought five chartered flights to Sabah from Fukuoka (two), Nagoya (two) and Osaka (one).
JTB Travel contributed 18 per cent of Japanese arrivals increasing by 47.2 per cent to deliver 5,024 tourists in 2012 and other agents combined contributed 36.6 per cent arrivals, he added.
Masidi said that over the years, Japan-Malaysia relations and friendship have grown strong and steady.
Japan established its Embassy in Malaysia in 1957 and this year is the 57th Anniversary of Japan-Malaysia Friendship, coinciding with Visit Malaysia Year 2014.
"Over the years, many Japanese have visited Malaysia, including the Emperor of Japan, in 2006 after the visit of the King of Malaysia, in 2005. In 2012, Japanese arrivals to Malaysia increased by 21.5 per cent to 470,000.
"In the first nine months of 2013 (last year), Japanese tourist arrivals to Malaysia increased by eight per cent to 371,009," he said. Malaysia, especially Sabah, he said was a country renowned for its travel-friendly destination with an inexhaustible list of fascinating destinations and experiences.
"As a truly value-for-money holiday destination, Sabah promises a perfect escape for tourists," he said.
Meanwhile, Shaharuddin said the Visit Malaysia Year 2014 was the latest and biggest tourism campaign by the Malaysia Government which will be held throughout the year ranging from dazzling parades, colourful cultural shows, fabulous food festivals, exciting sports, music and art festival to shopping extravaganza.
"The success of the VMY 2014 is dependent among others, on the continuous support and cooperation that we receive from the travel trade fraternity including the media and airline and in this regard, we are fortunate to have such an excellent working relationship with the travel trade fraternity in Japan," said Shaharuddin.
During his four-day official visit to Japan, Masidi also met with the top guns of two biggest travel agencies in Japan namely Akira Hirabayshi, President of H.I.S Travel and Hiromi Tagawa, President of JTB Travel.
He also met with Roslan Ismail, Regional Vice President (North Asia & America) of Malaysia Airlines.