TOKYO — Tourists might be flocking to Japan to shop but they should probably check opening hours before heading to Isetan or Mitsukoshi.
Isetan Mitsubishi, the country’s largest department store operator, has cut operating hours at some of its stores. The company said it wants to give its employees more time off to rest — something of a novel concept in work-obsessed Japan.
The company said earlier this month that it will shorten the opening hours at three of its stores, including the Mitsukoshi flagship store in Tokyo’s Nihonbashi district. Hours are being shortened from 9.5 hours per day to 9 — from 10:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. — and the change will take effect in April.
Also from this year, the retailer will be closing some stores on more days than in recent years. Until 2015, Isetan Mitsukoshi’s first business day of the year was Jan. 2, as the majority of stores in Japan close for the New Year holiday. This year, however, its first business day was Jan. 3. In addition to this, it will be closing many stores — including the Isetan flagship in Tokyo’s Shinjuku and the Mitsukoshi stores in Tokyo’s Ginza and Nihonbashi neighborhoods — on two days each in February and August, which are historically slow sales months.
A spokesman for the company said the changes are being made in the interest of both staff and customers.
“Since 2011, we have gradually been increasing the number of days our stores are closed and reducing opening hours,” the spokesman said. “Rather than going shopping early in the morning on New Year’s Day, we want people to be at home celebrating with their families. We want our staff to be able to spend more time with their families, as well as our customers.”
The most recent changes come at an odd time, considering that tourism flows into Japan continue to rise. The number of foreign visitors to Japan jumped 47.1 percent year-on-year in 2015, to 19.74 million, according to preliminary figures by the Japan National Tourism Organization. In December alone, over 1.77 million overseas visitors entered Japan, an increase of 43.4 percent over the same month in 2014.
Japanese department stores have put in an uneven performance in recent months but tourist spending has helped boost business. Stores saw higher sales in October but they were flat or down in November.
Japanese department store sales in December inched up 0.1 percent over last year to more than 709.8 billion yen, or $5.82 billion at average exchange rates, according to the Japan Department Store Association.
But for Tokyo area stores, which are tourist magnets, December sales increased 2.2 percent to more than 183.4 billion yen, or $1.5 billion.