Tourism to P.E.I. from Japan was down dramatically last year. (CBC)

Japanese tourists are returning to Prince Edward Island this year after a dramatic drop in visits last year that was attributed to fears over swine flu.

Bookings were down as much as 80 per cent in 2009, and many tourists who did come chose to wear masks and gloves.

"Last year this time, [the] Japanese daily tour only had two or three people," said Mayumi Mukaemachi of Prince Edward Tours, which caters almost exclusively to Japanese tourists. "This year, 10 to 12 people a day, so it's quite a difference. We are so happy."

About 10,000 visitors come to P.E.I. from Japan every year. Tour operators say Japanese tourists spend about $88 a day, $10 more than the average North American tourist.

The Island is a popular destination for the Japanese, many of whom have an infatuation with Anne of Green Gables, the fictional heroine created by P.E.I. author Lucy Maud Montgomery.

"To have the Japanese back, it's joyful. It's great," said Bruce MacNaughton, who runs a specialty foods business on the Island. "It's off to a fantastic start. We're really encouraged by the numbers we're seeing so far. I think it's going to be a banner year for the Japanese market."