• Kyodo News


A spike in the yen’s value has invigorated some sectors of the economy, such as retail and travel, with the currency recently strengthening to a 15-year high and continuing to trade around the ¥85 range to the dollar.

The impact of the yen’s surge is also visible in consumer behavior. Michio Arioka, a 52-year-old corporate executive living in Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture, returned to Narita airport on Tuesday from his summer vacation in Hawaii with an armful of shopping bags. Many other Japanese tourists returning from abroad did likewise.

“When I converted yen, I felt the wad of dollars (I was handed) was quite large,” said Arioka. “I found it difficult to resist the urge to splurge.”

The yen’s appreciation has also benefited the tourist industry. Major travel agency JTB Corp. reports increases in turnover of more than 10 percent compared with a year earlier for July and August.

H.I.S. Co. also saw an 11 percent jump in sales to vacationers traveling this summer. “The yen’s rise has become a psychological factor that spurred on our customers to travel,” said an official with the company. Consumers are also loosening their purse strings at retail stores selling imports at reduced prices.

A 72-year-old housewife looked happy as she held a grapefruit in her hands at an Ito-Yokado Co. supermarket in Ota Ward, Tokyo. “I usually don’t buy grapefruits but (now I’m buying) because they are cheap,” she said.

A discount campaign is on at 161 Ito-Yokado outlets nationwide as the yen’s ascent has brought down the cost of imported goods. Aeon Co. is offering a similar sale on up to 50 products at its 300 Jusco supermarkets across the nation.

Banks also have become busier because of the strong yen. Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp. has seen a spike in foreign-currency time deposits. “U.S. and Australian dollars have become particularly popular,” said the bank’s public relations officer.

Money that has been flowing into foreign currency deposit accounts daily in August is roughly double that of the same month a year ago, according to the bank.

Some economists sound less sanguine about the beneficial effect of the strong yen for consumers. Hideo Kumano, chief economist at the Dai-ichi Life Research Institute, points out prices have been falling due to prolonged deflation while other countries are going through inflation. “Due also to pay cuts, people are not thinking that things have become particularly cheap because of the yen’s strength,” he said.

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