The tension is building. On Tuesday, December 1, the Japanese Word of the Year for 2015 (Nippon.com) will be chosen from among a list of 50 nominees. It's a good group, with each of the nominees having intrinsic character and worthy credentials. In this post, however, the focus is on just one of the more interesting candidates: bakugai 爆買い ("explosive buying").
Bakugai is used quite frequently in the Japanese media. This, together with its extraordinary topicality, accounts for bakugai's being nominated as one of the Words/Phrases of the Year for 2015. Articles on the competition, both in Japanese and in English, carry photographs of shoppers lined up with massive amounts of goods that they have purchased. Usually those pictured are Chinese, who buy up everything from numerous fancy rice cookers to the most elaborate Japanese toilets (condoms, too, if CNBC is to be believed…). For more mundane products, yet ones where quality is sorely lacking or they are scarcely obtainable in China, such as milk powder, walnuts, honey, cosmetics, shoes, bags, health care items, and so forth, mainland Chinese used to hop down to Hong Kong, but more recently are increasingly buying them online (to the extent that foreign manufacturers can break through the maze of Chinese government regulations and restrictions)
The Wall Street Journal picked up on the bakugai phenomenon, translating bakugai 爆買い as "spending craze":
"Buzzword of the Year Nominees Announced in Japan" (11/11/15)
Bakugai (Spending Craze)
Despite the slowdown of the Chinese economy this year, the country’s tourists continued to spend their money overseas, particularly in Japan. Chinese travelers arrived by the busload at duty-free stores in Tokyo’s shopping districts, purchasing items including rice cookers and the world-famous high-tech toilet seats.
Q: Media often apply the word bakugai, which literally means explosive buying, to Chinese tourists in Japan. Their spending sprees now play a certain role in Japan's domestic consumption. Do you see this as a good sign for Japanese tourism?
A: Chinese tourists come to Japan mainly for shopping, not for sightseeing. Some of them buy things [to flip once they get home]. No one would buy 20 to 30 rice cookers just for themselves.
People call it explosive, but their average spending in Japan is about 230,000 yen ($1,897). Chinese tourists tend to spend three times that in the U.S.
I'm putting my money on bakugai for Japanese word of the year in 2015. At this point, it is clearly the frontrunner.
[Thanks to Nathan Hopson, Cecilia Segawa Seigle, and Miki Morita]