The Japanese are feeling the impact of China’s emergence as an economic superpower in many different ways. As their relative spending power declines, so that of their neighbour’s rises and the relationship between the two countries changes.
Japanese businesses, for example, are switching from buyer to seller, with shoppers increasingly likely to be served by Chinese workers brought in to help deal with increasing numbers of cash-rich tourists from the middle kingdom.
Chinese visitors to Japan have jumped 80% over the last year, following a relaxation on visa requirements, providing a much wanted boost in business at Japan’s department stores and luxury outlets, where sales to domestic customers have long stagnated.
Some Japanese retailers are now being forced to produce manuals telling staff how to deal with the influx of Chinese speaking customers.
In December 2009 Melrose Corporation, a Tokyo based clothing company, introduced a Chinese language manual for staff in response to the rise in the number of Chinese speaking customers.
“We realised that a number of our stores were seeing Chinese speaking customers on a daily basis,” said Kyoko Ogasawara, press officer at Melrose.
Japanese shoppers used to pour by the planeload into Paris, Milan and New York to buy exclusive European and US brands. But Chinese shoppers at Melrose now favour clothes by Japanese designers.
There has also been a rise in the number of Chinese employed in the service sector, including fast food outlets, cleaning businesses and small stores. Japanese born during the economic boom of the mid to late 1980s have become a parasite generation, living with and off their parents while shirking manual labour.
While not entirely fluent in the language these non-Japanese workers are sometimes viewed as more acceptable than their Japanese peers.
“There is a Chinese girl at the laundry I use, who doesn’t speak Japanese 100%, but is always polite,” says Hiroshi Umezawa an executive in the restaurant business.
“That’s different than the young Japanese guys I come across working at restaurants, who clearly have no desire to be there.”