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TOKYO — As Japan begins the long process of recovery and rebuilding after the massive earthquake and tsunami that struck March 11, members of its fashion industry are thinking of ways to lure back international buyers, even while some major events are still being canceled.
The Japan National Tourism Organization reported a 50.3 percent drop in the number of foreign visitors to Japan in March, compared to the same month last year. A spokesman for the JNTO said the organization isn’t making any predictions as to when or by how much these numbers will begin to increase again, but many in the industry are trying to do what they can to spur a revival.
Tomonori Matsui, director of the RoomsLink trade shows that generally run concurrently with Japan Fashion Week, said only 10 non-Japanese retailers sent buyers for the April edition of the event, compared to 37 the season before. But Matsui is concentrating his efforts on increasing both the number of international buyers and international brands for the next installment, which is scheduled for mid-October.
“I want to work hard on the p.r. to get more brands to participate,” Matsui said. “Since the event is a mix of trade and fashion shows and happens during Japan Fashion Week, it should be more international. If we can’t increase the number of international brands, it will become a domestic event, so I’d like about half of the brands to be international ones.”
Matsui said in April, RoomsLink featured 60 brands, all Japanese, after 15 European brands pulled out following the natural disaster and amid fears concerning problems at a nuclear power plant. But for October, he expects 70 local brands, and hopes to get about 40 to 50 international ones, including a label from Seoul that is already confirmed. He expects attendees to number more than 8,000.
Mutsuko Tatsukami, an organizer of the textile show JFW Japan Creation, said he has also seen international exhibitors pull out of its spring installment. There were 61 companies slated to participate in the most recent fair, which took place this month, after 10 non-Japanese firms canceled.
“We had a few cancellations from domestic brands, as well, but actually most [Japanese] brands told us that they wanted to do what they can to participate,” Tatsukami said.
For the next installment in October at Tokyo Big Sight, Tatsukami expects about 200 companies to exhibit at Japan Creation, although how many of those will be from outside the nation remains to be seen.
“We want international buyers and exhibitors to participate, but right now I can’t really say what will happen,” Tatsukami said. “We want to [give the message] that it’s OK to come to Japan, and we’ve had people from overseas express interest, so hopefully [the event in] October will go as planned.”
Tatsukami said that last October, the event attracted 23,503 visitors, including about 200 from outside of Japan. She hopes to have about the same number again this year.
“Up until last year, the number of attendees from overseas had been increasing, so we’d like that pattern to continue,” she said.
Despite an overall positive outlook, some fairs are being forced to make cutbacks. Frontier, a casual clothing show, has been postponed indefinitely.
“We planned on holding a small fair in June, but we canceled it because many participating companies are based or have factories in Sendai [where the tsunami struck], and therefore won’t be able to produce fall products on time,” said organizer Tadashi Yoshioka.
Yoshioka hopes to be able to hold the next edition of Frontier in September, but so far no concrete plans have been made. As for attracting foreign buyers, he remains skeptical.
“I think it will be difficult. It’s a complicated situation,” Yoshioka said. “I think there will be two or three companies that come, but I think the overall order totals from international buyers will decrease.”
Other changes on the horizon include cutting Japan Creation down to a yearly, rather than biyearly, show starting in 2012, while at the same time adding a new JFW-associated textile fair, called JFW Premium Textile Japan. This event will make its debut in May alongside Japan Creation, and will also be held from Oct. 12 to 14 at Tokyo Big Sight. Organizers plan to conduct the event, which Tatsukami says will be more of a business conference than a large-scale trade show, twice a year.