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Lunar New Year sales plunge as Chinese tourists avoid Japan
Publication Date : 13-02-2013
Domestic department stores saw a dismal start to the Lunar New Year holiday season, which began Sunday, due to the dwindling number of Chinese tourists amid recent tensions between Tokyo and Beijing.
While Matsuzakaya's Ginza store was crowded Sunday for its Valentine's Day campaign and other events, there were fewer Chinese shoppers compared to last year.
"A Chinese customer bought a wristwatch costing several million yen last year. But this year, what can you do?" a Matsuzakaya staffer said.
Last year, the store hung Chinese posters to attract tourists, but decided not to this year.
For department stores that have been struggling against sluggish domestic sales, the Lunar New Year holidays are one of the year's best chances to make a big profit. However, the number of Chinese tourists has plummeted since Japan nationalized three of the Senkaku Islands in September.
According to the Japan National Tourist Organisation, Chinese visitors to Japan for the October-December period fell 30 per cent to 40 per cent from the previous year.
"Sales to Chinese customers [in January] were half of what they were a year ago," said a Matsuya department store official.
Last year, Takashimaya Co.'s Nihombashi store set up a special section for Japanese souvenirs such as sensu folding fans and furoshiki wrapping cloths, but did not do so for this year's Lunar New Year. Similarly, Sogo & Seibu Co. opted not to prepare a Chinese brochure this year.
China's alleged use of weapons-targeting radar on a Maritime Self-Defence Force destroyer last month has also rattled department stores officials.
"It's hard to take bold steps [for the Lunar New Year] as we are worried about possible conflicts between Japanese and Chinese customers," an official at a major department store said.
Expectations high for Asean
Instead, department stores have pinned their hopes on tourists from Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand, Indonesia and Singapore.
Both public and private sectors have made efforts to encourage Southeast Asian shoppers to visit Japan, including boosting promotional campaigns and offering chartered flights, resulting in an increase in tourists.
While the number of Chinese tourists in December fell 27,000 from a year earlier to 52,400, the number of visitors from Southeast Asian countries, including Thailand and Singapore, rose by 19,000 to 83,600.
"Expensive items, such as handbags and watches by foreign [non-Japanese] designers, are popular. They're just as eager to shop as Chinese customers, and their likes and attitudes are close to that of Japanese," a Sogo & Seibu Co. official said.
Meanwhile, Daimaru Matsuzakaya Department Stores Co. is planning to offer 5 per cent coupons to attract foreign tourists during the cherry blossom viewing season. Parco Co. is also planning to set up a special section at a commercial facility in Singapore from late February showcasing Shibuya street fashion in a bid to encourage young consumers to visit Japan.
Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings Ltd., which has stores in Southeast Asian nations such as Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia, held lotteries and promotional giveaways for plane tickets to Japan and coupons for card members.