Japanese demand shows glimmers of life

Japanese demand shows glimmers of life

TOKYO - Strong stocks and upward pressure on wages are nudging Japanese consumers back into the welcoming arms of department stores.

Hideyuki Murakami, manager of the Mitsukoshi Department Store in Tokyo's Ginza shopping district, credits those two factors with improving consumer sentiment. Even after the government raised Japan's consumption tax from 5 per cent to 8 per cent last April, Mitsukoshi Ginza mustered sales growth thanks to foreign tourists' penchant for buying high-end items. Now there is a sense that domestic conditions have shifted.

According to the Japan Department Stores Association, nationwide all-store sales in February rose 1.1 per cent on the year -- the first year-on-year increase since the tax rose.

The buying power of Chinese tourists, who had their Lunar New Year holidays in February this year, no doubt contributed. But there is another way to look at it: In February 2014, retailers were enjoying a spike in demand ahead of the tax increase. Yet this year's February sales were strong enough to top the earlier figure.

In early to mid-March, sales were running 10-12 per cent below those in the same period last year, when the pre-tax-hike spree was in full effect.

Nevertheless, sales at major department stores in this period seem to have exceeded those in the same period of March 2013.

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