Duty-free sales at department stores in Japan roughly tripled from the previous year to ¥348.4 billion in 2023, the highest level since comparable data began in 2015, before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Japan Department Stores Association said Thursday.

The rise reflected the weak yen, as well as an increase in the number of foreign visitors to Japan following the end of the country's COVID-19 border measures.

More visitors came from South Korea, Taiwan, Europe and the United States, in contrast to the pre-COVID era when most foreign customers were from mainland China.

Sales of cosmetics and luxury items, such as foreign branded goods, were strong, thanks to the cheap yen. Some Japanese products, such as pearls and traditional craft items, also sold well.

"The number of group visitors arriving on large buses, which were common before the pandemic, has declined significantly, and there is a shift to small groups and other individual visitors," an official of the association said.

Overall department store sales, including duty-free sales, came to ¥5.4 trillion in 2023, up 9.2% on a same-store basis, the third straight annual increase.

The overall figure compared with the 2019 level of ¥5.7 trillion as customer traffic rebounded mainly at stores in urban areas after Japan downgraded COVID-19 under the infectious disease control law.

In December alone, department store sales totaled ¥646.5 billion. Same-store sales rose 5.4% from a year before, up for the 22nd consecutive month.