Japan logged a travel account surplus in fiscal 2014 for the first time in 55 years, according to a Finance Ministry report released Wednesday that highlighted the impact of increased Chinese tourism.
The ¥209.9 billion surplus — money Japanese spend traveling abroad minus money foreign travelers spent in Japan — is said to be benefiting local retailers struggling from shrinking domestic consumer spending. But some say more campaigning is necessary to lure Chinese visitors to rural areas, with their visits typically confined to Tokyo and Kyoto.
“I love shopping in Japan. I come here twice or three times a year to buy Japanese cosmetics and other big-name brand goods,” said a 27-year-old Chinese tourist, who was visiting department store Matsuya Ginza in Tokyo on Tuesday.
Looking at the section displaying high-end brands, she said she liked the fact that they were neatly presented and clean.
“And I don’t have to be worried if they are fake,” she said, adding that she brought three empty suitcases for her shopping spree.
The tourist boon has also led some companies in Japan to expand their services to cater for foreign clientele.
Edion Corp., a nationwide home electrical appliances retailer, refurbished its store in Tokyo’s Akihabara district in February, dedicating two floors to foreigners. Purchase by foreign travelers accounted for about 60 percent of the store’s revenue, Kyodo learned.
According to an estimate by the Japan Tourism Agency, money spent by foreign travelers in Japan increased by 43.1 percent to a record ¥2.02 trillion in 2014. Of that, Chinese tourists spent ¥558.3 billion, or 27.5 percent.
The JTA believes that a weak yen and expanding the consumption tax exemption to food products and cosmetics last fall boosted tourist numbers, along with eased visa requirements.
A Shanghai-based travel agency plans to offer group tours to Japan for 50,000 Chinese travelers this year, 2.5 times more than last year.
It said people traveling in Japan praised Japan’s service, delicious food and relatively cheap price tag — comments which travel around by word of mouth.
While some tourists come to Japan for luxury clothing and handbags, other, mostly younger visitors, want to experience the nation’s pop culture.
“I’d like to go to a host club in Tokyo’s Kabukicho entertainment district that I saw in a TV drama series,” said a woman in her 20s. A man in his 30s, meanwhile, said he wanted to visit the Koshien Stadium, a baseball park in Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture, that he read about in a comic book.
“This trend is likely to continue until 2020 when Japan hosts the Olympic Games,” an executive of the agency said.
Challenges remain, however, with statistics showing only large cities and historical venues proved popular with foreign tourists.
In 2014, Tokyo ranked top for the number of days foreign travelers stayed at hotels and traditional ryokans followed by Osaka, Hokkaido and Kyoto.
Another consideration is whether the boost in Chinese tourists is a fad. “Foreigners, especially Chinese will be buying products manufactured in their own countries,” said Hiroyuki Endo, president of consumer electronics retailer chain K’s Holdings Corp.