Mitsukoshi to target language barrier during Lunar New Year holidays

Kyodo

Department store Isetan Mitsukoshi will step up support for foreign customers over the Lunar New Year at its flagship store in central Tokyo.

The Mitsukoshi Ginza Store in the posh shopping district plans to offer services that lower language barriers for foreigners, particularly Chinese and Taiwanese, in mid-February, when the traditional holiday will be observed, Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings Ltd. said Thursday. Tourism from Chinese-speaking regions always spikes at this time of year, it said.

The store will double attendants who can speak Chinese or English to 10 from five, deploy videophone devices for interpretation on a trial basis and provide floor maps in Chinese.

The beefed-up interpret team will be limited to a week for this season, which starts on Feb. 18. The Lunar New Year itself falls on the 19th.

Mitsukoshi Ginza also plans to open a duty-free shop this fall that will occupy an entire floor.

Thanks to a weaker yen and relaxed visa requirements for some Southeast Asian countries, tourists to Japan are estimated to have hit a record 13.41 million last year, government statistics say. The number of Chinese doubled.

Spending by foreign travelers jumped 43.3 percent last year to a record ¥2.03 trillion, with visitors from China accounting for around 25 percent of the total, the Japan Tourism Agency said.

The expansion last October of tax-free items for foreign visitors, including consumables such as cosmetics and food, was a major factor.

For Isetan Mitsukoshi, sales of tax-free goods at its 28 stores are projected to grow around 80 percent in fiscal 2014 through March.

The average sale per Chinese customer for such goods last year was roughly ¥125,000, an Isetan Mitsukoshi official said.