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It used to be a common sight in major Japanese cities, especially during the Lunar New Year holidays: hordes of Chinese tourists arriving on buses and cruise ships and going on shopping sprees for duty-free, made in Japan goods. There’s even a term for that particular consumer behavior: bakugai, or explosive buying.

International travel, however, has come to a standstill amid tougher border controls caused by the pandemic, dealing a heavy blow to corporations that have relied on the purchasing power of inbound visitors from the world’s second-largest economy. In 2019, foreign visitors — of which nearly a third were Chinese — spent ¥4.8 trillion in Japan. Last year, spending plunged 85% to an estimated ¥745 billion.

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