When the Chinese go on shopping trips overseas, they mean business. This hasn’t gone unnoticed in Japan, where the term bakugai refers an explosive shopping sprees carried out by Chinese tourists. The term was used so much in 2015 that it was recently dubbed the buzzword of the year by the U-Can Shingo Ryukogo Taisho (or U-Can New Words and Buzzwords Awards), announced by the Jiyukokuminsha publishing house.
“Bakugai shows the high quality of Japanese goods,” boasted Luo Yiwen, president of the Laox electronics store chain, who was at the awards and whose stores had 1.49 million Chinese customers last year.
Chinese tourists spent an estimated $1.1 billion in Japan during cherry blossom season alone last year on everything from bath salts to guided tours. In the second quarter of this year they spent ¥358.1 billion (US$2.9 billion), 40.3% of the total and the most of any nationality—and up more than threefold from a year earlier.
But not all Chinese shopping trips to Japan end happily. In March, Chinese tourists were dismayed to learn that the high-tech smart toilet lids they bought in Japan were actually made in China. “I can’t believe I came this far to buy something manufactured on my doorstep,” one man from Hangzhou told Sina News (link in Chinese). “Doesn’t that just make me a porter?”
The Japanese aren’t alone in experiencing bakugai, even if they’re unique in calling it that. Along with Japan, Europe is a major destination for Chinese shoppers. Even after the economic slowdown in China, they carried on buying luxury goods in Paris, London, and other popular destinations.
With China rapidly expanding middle class, the bakugai phenomenon isn’t likely to go away anytime soon. According to CLSA, a brokerage and investment group in Asia, by 2020 outbound Chinese tourists will number 200 million annually—double the amount that traveled last year. The amount they spend abroad will triple.
Bakugai wasn’t the only buzz phrase recognized at by the U-Can awards. Also recognized, according to the Japan Times, was doron (drone), toripuru suri (“triple three,” a rare baseball achievement in which a player excels in three categories), and Abe seiji wo yurusanai (“We will not tolerate Abe’s politics”).