The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said Friday that it is planning to introduce a system for smartphones that allows visitors to Japan to get information in several languages on products they want to buy simply by scanning them.
“Now that the number of foreign tourists to Japan is rising, with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics expected to further boost tourism, we want to help tourists enjoy shopping during their stay,” said a METI representative from the distribution and retail industry division.
“The labeling system in particular and a lack of such information in foreign languages seems to be one of the major problems visitors to Japan are facing, and it’s regrettable they can’t enjoy shopping because of that,” he said.
“The language has also been a barrier for many manufacturers and retailers,” he added, suggesting that providing such services may become strategically important to reach international consumers.
The project was launched Friday by a committee comprising more than 50 Japanese manufacturers and retailers. The aim of the committee, which is administered by METI, is to raise corporate competitiveness and consumer satisfaction.
Among its members are Japan’s leading cosmetics maker Shiseido Co., brewer Kirin Holdings Co. and pharmaceuticals firms.
The representative said the service is especially needed for products with contents that aren’t visible, or if the lack of such information will expose consumers to health problems.
The committee plans to gather basic information from cooperating firms and retailers and hopes to draft the outline within a year. The service would be available in the languages most widely used by visitors to Japan, including English, Chinese and Korean.
The issue was highlighted in the results of a survey published in the January issue of Hansoku Kaigi, an online marketing communications magazine run by Sendenkaigi Co.
Last July, the company surveyed several hundred tourists from the United States, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and European countries who visited Tokyo’s most popular shopping districts, including Akihabara, Asakusa and Ginza.
The tourists were surveyed in English and Chinese. The representative said most of those surveyed in English pointed out they had problems understanding the information printed on products they wanted to buy.
The Japan Tourism Agency estimated that tourist spending rose 43.1 percent to a record ¥2.02 trillion in 2014, with Chinese accounting for ¥558.3 billion, or 27.5 percent, of the total.
In May, the Finance Ministry released a report highlighting the impact that Chinese tourism had on Japan’s travel account balance in fiscal 2014, which posted is first surplus in 55 years.
Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for the Consumer Affairs Agency said some consumers have contacted the agency to complain that the labeling system is incomprehensible.
“Most of the inquiries we receive are from firms asking how the labels should be changed,” she added.
The agency introduced a new labeling system for food products that claim enhanced health benefits in April as part of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe administration’s attempt to deregulate agriculture.
“Under the previous regulations, food products were labeled according to standards stipulated in 58 laws and regulations on safety and quality, which needed to be integrated,” the spokeswoman said.