By Rui Suzuki and Arata Hashizume / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writers
17:26 JST, February 11, 2024
With the start of the Lunar New Year holiday weekend on Saturday, Chinese visitors to Japan appear to be changing the way they spend money, placing more emphasis on experiencing Japanese culture — in contrast to the impression they once gave of being on shopping sprees.
Among the Chinese visitors who arrived at Haneda Airport on Saturday afternoon was a 21-year-old man from Shanghai who came to Japan with a friend said that this was his second visit to Japan. He is a fan of “Suzume,” a 2022 movie whose Japanese title is “Suzume no Tojimari,” directed by Makoto Shinkai.
“I want to visit the places where the anime was set and see the beautiful scenery. I also want to see spin-off merchandise that is only available there,” he said.
Shortly before the Chinese New Year holiday, tourists from China started becoming more visible in many parts of Japan.
At a glass store in Tokyo’s Asakusa district, a Chinese family attended a hands-on kiriko cut glass lesson.
A sushi-making workshop has been held under the instruction of a chef at a sushi restaurant in Tsukiji, Tokyo. Tea ceremony classes are also popular.
About 720,000 Chinese visitors came to Japan in February 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic.
When entry to Japan was restricted due to tighter border controls in February 2021, the number of Chinese visitors dropped to 1,700.
The number of visitors is expected to recover as this year is the first Lunar New Year holiday since the Chinese government lifted its ban on group travel last August.
Wealthy tourists increasing
There has been a change in the amount of money Chinese tourists spend in Japan.
Chinese visitors spent an average of ¥319,000 per person in Japan in 2023, up by ¥100,000 per person from ¥212,000 per person in 2019, according to the Tourism Agency,
The breakdown shows that spending on hotels and entertainment services doubled, while spending on shopping increased only slightly.
As the number of repeat visitors increases, they are shifting their spending from shopping to enjoying a variety of cultural experiences.
Chinese tourists used to go on shopping sprees for such products as diapers and cosmetics, but that trend is declining.
“The best-selling items for Chinese tourists are shifting to luxury brands and jewelry,” said an official at Matsuya Ginza. This means that more and more wealthy people are visiting Japan.
Department stores, which receive many foreign visitors, are strengthening their readiness to accept Chinese tourists.
Takashimaya Co. placed Chinese-speaking staff in the food section of its Shinjuku store Friday. Takashimaya has made similar arrangements for the Valentine’s Day sales floor, which coincides with Chinese New Year.
Fewer direct flights
With economic activity returning to normal, the amount of money spent by foreign visitors rebounded to a record high of ¥5.29 trillion spent in 2023, about 10% more than in 2019.
The number of visitors to Japan is also back to about 80% of its 2019 level, at 25.06 million. However, the number from China, which was the largest before the pandemic, remains below 30% of its 2019 level.
“The number of Chinese tourists during the Lunar New Year holiday is about 50% of what it was before the pandemic,” said Akihiko Tamura, president of Narita International Airport Corp.
A relative lack of direct flights to Japan is one of the factors for the smaller number of Chinese passengers.
The number of flights between Japan and China in the winter of 2023 was only 40% of the number before the pandemic.
Also, there is a shortage of ground personnel at airports in Japan due to the increase in routes between Japan and the United States and Japan and South Korea.
“Demand from Chinese people who want to visit Japan has never waned,” said Takayuki Miyajima, senior economist at Sony Financial Group Inc. “The question is to what extent airports and hotels, which are short of staff, will be able to accommodate Chinese visitors. The trend during the Chinese New Year will be a touchstone.”