China Tourist

On a buying binge

As Australians protect their powder, ‘bakugai’ buyers run amok in Japan

Chinese tourists in japan graph

Powder was troubling the European newspapers over the Christmas period. But while the Alpine dailies were bemoaning a shortage of snow for festive skiers, the Chinese media was reporting concerns about a different powder. A shortfall in baby milk formula from Australia is causing anxiety for Chinese parents, many of whom do not trust the homegrown variety.

Time Weekly says the formula shortage first became evident in October and was exacerbated by online sales on Singles’ Day last November. That month, Australia’s Department of Agriculture issued a statement reiterating that shippers of more than 10kg of milk powder required an export licence. Transgressors could face 12-month jail sentences.

Come the New Year, however, and even the Chinese Navy seemed to be flouting the restrictions, after sailors were photographed carrying boxes of baby milk powder onto a ship docked in Brisbane.

Pop-up shops in Melbourne and Sydney have been doing roaring trade with Chinese buyers, while Bellamy’s Australia, a Tasmania-based producer of the country’s only certified organic infant formula, has blamed “unprecedented demand” for shortages in stock.

Demand for the “white gold” saw Bellamy’s share price increase more than nine-fold last year.

A man from Sydney surnamed Chen told Time Weekly that he has had less luck buying milk powder for relatives back in China over the past few weeks. Many brands have sold out or are subject to restrictions on the number of packages an individual can purchase.

Xinhua reports that Australian retailer Woolworths has even been accused of racism after it was discovered that some of its English-language signage was limiting purchases to four packets per person, while Chinese language versions said just two packets could be bought. A spokesperson said it was an honest mistake, which has now been rectified.

The Japanese have also been grappling with the new wave of Chinese shoppers, even devising a new term – bakugai or “buying explosion” – to describe the frenzied retail activity.

One of WiC’s Japanese readers says his country is still adjusting to the scale of this bakugai shopping as Japan has had less exposure to Chinese tourists than other long-standing shopping destinations such as Hong Kong.

This is changing fast, with Chinese tourists to Japan rising from just over a million in 2013 to about five million last year.

The Economic Observer says that new visa rules, introduced at the beginning of 2015, have made it much easier for Chinese tourists to visit, while the cheap yen is fuelling demand for consumer goods.

Japanese newspaper Sankei Shimbon claims that special treatment for foreign visitors has helped too, with incentives ranging from special lounges at stores to free drinks.

WiC’s Japanese source says the bakugai trend was very evident in Osaka over the New Year. Most Japanese traditionally stay at home over the holiday, but when he went out to buy a camera lens for a Chinese friend, he was surprised by how busy it was.

“I was expecting the electronics store to be really quiet,” he says. “But it was heaving with Chinese tourists. Shop assistants had nametags with Chinese surnames on them and there was a 5% discount for purchases made with Unionpay or Visa cards issued overseas.”

Chinese tourists have also embraced Japan’s tradition of lucky-dip bags known as fukubukuro (mystery items often sold at a discount to their face value). However, whereas a Japanese person might buy a single bag to mark the New Year, Chinese tourists were seen loading up at one shop after another.

Takashimaya in Osaka was offering lucky bags filled with items thought to appeal to Chinese tourists, such as thermos flasks and ceramic knives. They had sold out by lunchtime on the first day.

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