The growth of Japan’s smartphone market is set to continue at pace, after research firm IDC predicted that smartphone shipments to the country will increase by 55 percent this year.

The figures — via Tokyo Times – estimate that the country will bring in 31.13 million devices in 2012, with the iPhone 4S said to be a key driver of increased demand and supply. Already the launch of the latest Apple smartphone has had an impact in Japan, as it propelled the firm to the top of the country’s smartphone industry, though that is likely to be temporary.

Shipments peaked for the launch of the iPhone 4S in October, and are likely to settle down following the end of the initial rush period. Irrespective of whether a rumored fifth-generation iPhone launchese, the popularity of Apple devices is seeing it benefit from Japan’s growing desire for smartphones.

Last year was a breakthrough one which saw retailers increase their smartphone offerings like never before, in anticipation that Japanese consumers would swap Web-enabled feature phones for Western smartphones in larger numbers. In lieu of that, smartphone shipments increased by more than three fold in 2011, topping 20 million over the twelve month period.

Sustained but less spectacular growth is expected over the longer term, with shipments tipped to reach 37 million in 2016.

Demand for tablet computers is also on the rise, and IDC foresees that shipments will increase by 48 percent to hit 3.33 million units this year. That figure is expected to almost double over the next four years however, with 2016 estimated to see 5.79 million tablets shipped to Japan.

While IDC’s figures are shipments, not sales, the increased demand and predicted demand for stock demonstrates that Japanese consumers are firmly embracing smartphones and tablets.