With the dark days of late summer 2012’s anti-Japan boycotts far behind them, Japanese retailers have cashed in as an influx of Chinese travelers has bypassed a turbulent Hong Kong and a crowded South Korea for Tokyo and other Japanese cities. According to statistics released this week, 2.2 million Chinese tourists visited Japan in 2014, a jaw-dropping 82 percent increase in Chinese arrivals in Japan year-on-year. This puts Chinese arrivals in Japan roughly on par with Chinese arrivals in the United States.
Along with respected and sought-after brands—particularly in the electronics and beauty sectors—and a reputation for good service and quality, many Chinese tourists have taken advantage of a weakening yen. The yen fell around 20 percent against the Chinese yuan in 2013, and an additional 10-12 percent last year, which has contributed heavily to the rising numbers of Chinese visitors enticed by what they see as a 20-30 percent “discount” on everything from rice to luxury goods.
Loosening visa restrictions have also encouraged many mainland Chinese travelers to pull the trigger on visits to Japan—as they have in the United States. Japan has extended multiple-entry visas for affluent Chinese tourists from three to five years, allowing them to make numerous visits to the nearby country at the drop of a hat. Chinese shoppers have also been enticed by Japan’s duty-free expansion, which now lets foreign shoppers save 8 percent sales tax on everything from cosmetics to food items.
Despite Japan’s recent successes, however, retailers need to make sure not to get complacent. As we’ve seen in the past, when Sino-Japanese relations take a turn for the worse for whatever reason, retailers—many of which have already seen tepid sales to domestic shoppers over the past year—are the ones who suffer.