By  on June 23, 2009

TOKYO — May was another rough month for Japanese retailers.

Department stores’ May sales slid 12.3 percent to 511.2 billion yen, or $5.28 billion, from a year ago, the Japan Department Stores Association said Friday. This is the 15th straight month of decline.

Apparel sales at the nation’s 274 stores fell 15.1 percent during the month. Men’s wear shed 16.9 percent, while women’s wear sales declined 15 percent.

The ongoing recession, rising unemployment and swine flu fears kept shoppers away, the association said. Japan’s unemployment rate has climbed steadily since the start of the year to reach 5 percent in April, the most recent data available.

To combat the current climate, some Japanese department store operators are offering summer discounts earlier than usual. Takashimaya will put about 20 to 30 percent of its spring-summer merchandise on sale as of Saturday and start to mark down the rest on July 1, the traditional start of the sales period on Japan.

Similarly, Millennium Retailing Group’s Sogo and Seibu department stores have already started marking down merchandise — including leftover stock from past seasons — by as much as 40 percent.

“Last year, these markdowns were done mainly for our loyalty card holders, but this year discounted merchandise is available for regular consumers at this earlier stage,” a Millennium spokesman said.

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