TOKYO — Tourists are gradually making their way back to Japan after last year's devastating tsunami disaster and even more are expected to make the trip over the Lunar New Year holiday period, which kicked off Monday.
Tourists to Japan are becoming an increasingly important part of the luxury goods and retail customer base in Japan. It is not uncommon to see busloads of Chinese tourists making the rounds of Ginza and other key shopping districts in Tokyo.
According to preliminary figures estimated by the Japan National Tourism Organization, the number of overseas visitors to Japan during 2011 was down 27.8 percent from 2010 but there was a significant improvement in the latter part of last year. Tourism to Japan plummeted 60 percent in April; December figures were only down by 11.7 percent on the year.
In December, the number of visitors from Mainland China actually increased by 31.9 percent on the year while those from Hong Kong grew by 4.4 percent.
The Chinese New Year holidays seem to be helping this trend along.
"We've had a lot more Chinese people coming in than usual, and a lot more groups, both organized tours and private groups," said a representative at the tourist information center in Tokyo's Narita Airport. She said that in addition to tourists from Mainland China, the office has seen an increase in visitors from Taiwan and Hong Kong.
Mark Kobayashi, director of public relations at the Peninsula Tokyo, said that an increase in Chinese guests is nothing new for his hotel during this time of year.
"Since our opening, we always see an increase in guests from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan over the Chinese New Year," he said, adding that the hotel is expecting the trend to continue. "We're hoping to see the leisure traveler return, because things are much more stable here in Tokyo."
Retailers are also noting a distinct pickup in tourism.
"We don't have specific numbers, but we've noticed a slight increase in Asian visitors at Omotesando Hills and Roppongi Hills," said Mina Shi, a spokeswoman for Mori Building, which owns and operates several large shopping complexes in Tokyo. "But where we've really noticed an increase is at Venus Fort," Shi continued, referring to a mall on an island of reclaimed land in Tokyo Bay. "It's close to Haneda [Airport] and several agencies send tourist buses there. Since last weekend we've had between 15 and 20 buses arriving each day."
A spokeswoman for Takashimaya said he has witnessed a similar phenomenon. "Ever since last autumn we've been seeing an increase in Chinese customers, and in December we had about 30 percent more than the previous year," she said. "If things continue at this pace, we believe we'll also see that there have been more Chinese shoppers during this year's Lunar New Year than there were last year."
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