Chinese tourists flock to shop Japan’s luxury vintage stores

    Amplified by TikTok, Xiaohongshu, and celebrity endorsements, Japan’s vintage luxury scene is thriving, thanks in part to Chinese and international tourists.
    Image: Instagram

    When content creator Taylor Quitara took a two-week trip to Japan in April, there was one thing on her mind: stocking up on vintage goods.

    “It’s definitely one of the main reasons I visit Japan. I end up spending most of my time on Google Maps seeing how many thrift or vintage stores I can hit,” Quitara tells Jing Daily.

    Quitara isn’t alone in her endeavor. The New York-based content creator joins a bevy of international tourists, globally and in China, piling into the country to scour its vast collection of secondhand gems.

    As the desirability of secondhand wares swells, the vintage and pre-owned luxury goods market is tipped to reach $78.33 billion by 2031, according to Business Research Insights.

    But while resale sites like The RealReal, Vestiaire, and Vinted report healthy profit growth, a number of shoppers are bypassing the platforms’ shipping and tax fees to go straight to the source.

    Japan has emerged as one of the highest-rated destinations for pre-owned luxury among global consumers.

    “Vintage shopping in Japan is lovely because everything is so well taken care of and categorized,” Quitara says.

    And with the Japanese Yen currently hovering at a 34-year low, Chinese locals are descending on the country to take advantage of the favorable exchange rate.

    View post on Instagram

    Why China’s vintage market lags behind Japan’s#

    Meanwhile, in China, the mainland’s pre-owned goods subsegment is growing but still is significantly behind, impeded by superstitions around wearing secondhand garments and a preference for newness.

    While Chinese shoppers are getting savvier at spotting knock-offs, trepidation over unintentionally buying a fake remains rife in the mainland.

    Japan’s strict laws on counterfeit goods have put the country in pole position. Countermeasures, including having customs agents physically inspect all imported goods and strict authentication processes, are driving Chinese shoppers to the neighboring destination.

    “Japan has a sophisticated system for taking in goods, authenticating, evaluating, cleaning and selling,” Yaling Jiang, a China consumer research expert, tells Jing Daily. “In China, almost anyone can do business with the help of social media, and it’s particularly hard to authenticate.”

    China has historically fallen behind when it comes to new and pre-owned luxury goods, Jiang says. “For example, Louis Vuitton entered the Japanese market in 1968 and the Chinese market in 1992. It means mainland China has much less market know-how and fewer desirable items than Japan,” she adds.

    Japan’s major economic downturn during the 1990s saw many shoppers offload their luxury items en masse, increasing the amount of goods in circulation across the country’s vintage scene – an impact that is still felt today.

    Ragtag vintage draws in hundreds of international tourists with its rich selection of pre-owned goods. Image: Ragtag
    Ragtag vintage draws in hundreds of international tourists with its rich selection of pre-owned goods. Image: Ragtag

    A destination for Chinese customers#

    Subsequently, more Chinese fashion fans are flying to Japan to purchase their pre-owned goods.

    “Japan has a much more mature vintage culture than China due to its economy and society’s development progress,” Troy Sun, founder of Carnet Consulting, tells Jing Daily. Sun is a frequent visitor to Japan’s vintage stores, stocking up on clothes and bags every time she’s in the area.

    Hong Kong native and vintage enthusiast Jialing (who asked to be referred to by her first name) is one of them. An avid collector of pre-owned pieces, Jialing believes that Japan’s rich selection of vintage and pre-owned goods markedly exceeds China’s.

    “In China, most shops are just selling used luxury items. But, in Japan, there’s more to it,” Jialing says, noting that Japan’s sellers place a bigger emphasis on curation and sourcing uber-rare pieces from across Europe.

    “Chinese stores lack that uniqueness,” she says.

    Content relating to Japan's vintage scene is proliferating on domestic social apps such as Xiaohongshu. Image: Xiaohongshu
    Content relating to Japan's vintage scene is proliferating on domestic social apps such as Xiaohongshu. Image: Xiaohongshu

    Big names, plenty of retailers#

    Home to some of the world’s most eclectic consignment stores – selling anything from rare Fendi baguettes to original Comme Des Garcons – stock across Japan arrives in abundance.

    Shimokitazawa, Tokyo’s vibrant youth hub, boasts an estimated 200 vintage stores alone, including popular haunts Ragtag, 2nd Street, Kindal, and Bookoff. Japan’s capital of punk, Koenji, and the colorful district of Shibuya are also recognized as thriving locations for vintage items.

    “Treasure Factory is my favorite,” New-Yorker Quitara says, when asked where the best spot is to shop vintage. “They have a lot of stores all over Japan, and I find the prices for designer [goods] are very fair.”

    Quitara is well-versed in sourcing luxury names for a bargain. During her time in the country, her purchases included a pair of 2003 Prada archive boots ($27), an Anna Sui purse ($21), and a Vivienne Westwood hoodie ($27). “And lots of Burberry!” she adds.

    Unlike other hotbeds, such as Paris and New York, where vintage and pre-owned luxury is sold at a premium, Japan’s scene is renowned for offering hard-to-find pieces at affordable prices.

    But these lower costs don’t equate to lower quality products, says Loic Bizel, a fashion consultant based in Japan. “Even though these items are pre-owned, Japanese [consumers] take a lot of precaution in maintaining their quality. They usually keep the original box of their bags or watches,” he says.

    Taylor Quitara wearing a Burberry outfit she thrifted while in Japan. Image: Courtesy of Quitara
    Taylor Quitara wearing a Burberry outfit she thrifted while in Japan. Image: Courtesy of Quitara

    Gaining Xiaohongshu and TikTok traction#

    Social media has also played a pivotal role in propelling Japan’s secondhand luxury boom – most notably on TikTok, where content depicting individuals thrifting across the country has taken off.

    For Gen Z and Gen Alpha consumers, UGC apps like TikTok are their first port of call for discovering recommendations. Quitara tracked down her favorite vintage stores in Japan via Google Maps and TikTok, as well as via community-based forum Reddit.

    The upturn in online popularity is keeping business flush for local retailers.

    Shibuya-based Amore Vintage, for example, has gained global recognition through TikTok and Instagram. The boutique’s visually gorgeous, algorithm-friendly interior – most notably its pink polka-dotted shelves lined with vintage Chanel – has become a breeding ground for social media content.

    A video posted by content creator Adaleine Morin, which weaves through the store’s vast selection of Hermès Birkin bags, has been viewed 1.5 million times on Tiktok.

    According to the company, inventory exceeds 8,000 products. Over half of the stock is Chanel.

    View post on TikTok

    Japan’s vintage scene is attracting similar attention on Chinese platforms, where posts related to secondhand shopping in Japan are proliferating.

    On Xiaohongshu, the hashtag #Japanvintage has generated over 8.5 million impressions, boosted by endorsements from idols such as Blackpink’s Jennie (the star has been spotted wearing vintage Chanel sourced by Amore Vintage on multiple occasions).

    But as attitudes toward vintage and pre-owned goods undergo a pivotal shift across China, can the mainland’s market ever catch up to Japan’s?

    Consultant Jiang isn’t convinced. “I don’t believe it will in the foreseeable future,” she says. “A lot of it boils down to accumulated experience and desirable items. Even if the volume catches up, the quality won’t, and Chinese consumers are fully aware of this.”

    • Chinese and international tourists are increasingly drawn to Japan for its abundance of vintage and thrift stores as interest in secondhand wares grows.
    • Despite growth, China's pre-owned goods market lags behind Japan's, hindered by cultural superstitions, concerns over authenticity, and a preference for new items.
    • Xiaohongshu has played a key role in directing Chinese consumers to Japan's thriving vintage scene, and when leveraged correctly can drive wider luxury brand success.
    • To capture the burgeoning appetite among Chinese consumers for second-hand goods, mainland strategies can explore integrating blockchain technology to enhance authentication processes and build trust.
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