What's new

The Birth of Bakugai : How Chinese Tourism Invented a New Buzzword for Japanese Media

Aepsilons

ELITE MEMBER
May 29, 2014
24,976
118
35,590
Country
Japan
Location
United States
The last decade has shown a major increase in Japanese media coverage of the aggressive consumption habits of Chinese tourists. Today, Japanese news outlets routinely broadcast footage of Chinese tourists flooding Japanese retailers, buying electronics and other goods in huge volumes. According to surveys, the most popular items with these visitors range from cosmetics and medicine to mini-thermoses, ceramic kitchen knives, rice cookers, and bidet-style Japanese toilets.

Alarmed by these trends, the Japanese media have invented a new term to describe China’s buying behaviors. That word is bakugai (爆買い).

Literally translated, bakugai means something like “buying explosion.” In effect, Japan’s mass media have begun comparing the high-quantity purchasing habits of Chinese visitors to a bomb going off in Japan’s retail sector.

The term, it seems, was first used on a TV news program six years ago, but bakugai has only been in “explosive” use since this February, when Chinese New Year celebrations sparked a surge in Chinese tourism to Japan. From 2009 through 2014, TV news broadcasters were the only ones using the term.

But why is the media using a word like bakugai so often, and what kinds of events does the word describe? The answers to these questions reveal a great deal about Japan’s “delicate relationship” with its mainland neighbor?

Why did Japanese TV start talking about bakugai?
Baku (explosion) is a fairly common prefix in Japanese slang, used to describe any rapid, intense, or all-consuming phenomena. A good example is the word bakusui, a combination of baku and the first character of suimin, which means “sleep.” Bakusui, in turn, means sleeping soundly, impervious to all distractions.

Bakugai is the same sort expression. It is unclear who coined the term, but since 2009 it has enjoyed strong and, well, explosive growth. On personal blogs, for example, you’ll often see people writing things like “kyou, bakugai-shita yo” (“I bought a ton of stuff today!”) Initially, the term had no obvious associations with Chinese tourism.

The seeds of the China connection were planted in the fall of 2008, shortly before the word “blew up” on TV news. Around that time, Chinese consumption habits became a hot topic for financial newspapers and magazines in Japan. Headlines routinely announced thing like “One by One, Chinese Tourists Generate Huge Rice Cooker Sales” or “Chinese Tourists Suddenly Buying Premier Japanese Luxury Items.” Faced with these developments, financial observers saw an ideal business opportunity for their readers.

It wasn’t long before TV news picked up on the story, and began running footage of huge crowds of Chinese people flooding straight off their tour buses into Japanese stores. Brandishing with huge wads of cash, these tourists filled entire suitcases with Japanese souvenirs. When they’d left, the store shelves were as empty as an old maid’s pram.

The phenomenon, it seems, was striking enough that newscasters needed a word to describe it. And in September 2009, a major news program found that word in bakugai. In no time, other news programs were using the word as well.

For a long time, however, no media other than TV news made a point of using the word. There was plenty of coverage of Chinese consuming habits outside TV news, but the word bakugai itself was relatively uncommon.

Maybe the neologism, with all its implied violence, was just ideally matched with the shocking videos showing up all over Japanese news. Those visual shocks may explain why bakugai appeared so much on TV, and so little anywhere else.

To Japanese people, who have endured economic recession for nearly three decades, the sight of Chinese tourists snatching up luxury goods was a new, shocking sight. By linking the “explosive consumption” with frenetic video of rapid-fire buying, Japanese people were forced to rediscover the reality of China’s economic might.

A brief history of bakugai
The appearance of the word bakugai exposes the deep, fundamental tensions that have defined Japan’s relationship with China for centuries. Stated in the broadest terms, those relations tend to oscillate between political resentment and profound economic interdependence.

The tensions, and their connection to bakugai, were first exemplified by news programs in 2010, when the media began reporting on explosive consumption in relation to the Japanese government’s loosening of approval restrictions for foreign tourist visas. The scale of Chinese tourism in Japan increased significantly as a result of the reforms, bringing with it a rapid increase in bakugai.

This uptick, however, would prove to short-lived, as the Tohoku Earthquake of 2011 sparked an immediate decline in tourism to Japan – including, albeit not limited to, tourism from China. The number of news broadcasts discussing bakugai declined during this time as well.

The trend was exacerbated by growing political tensions between the two countries throughout 2012, which had been enflamed when Hong Kong-based activists landed on the Senkaku Islands, a disputed territory in the East China Sea. The resulting diplomatic dispute sparked massive anti-Japanese demonstrations across China, including movements to boycott Japanese goods. Chinese tourism to Japan declined as a result of these protests, leading to a further decrease in bakugai.

In 2013, however, the numbers reversed yet again, likely because of a shift in exchange rates brought about by the weakening of the yen in the last months of 2012. With shopping in Japan suddenly more affordable for foreign visitors, tourism from China was back on the rise.

The upward trend would be further amplified in 2014, by announcements of the expansion of duty free allowances to include food, beverages, medicines, cosmetics, and tobacco products other than those already sold at Japanese duty free stores. Suddenly, every broadcaster in Japan was talking about bakugai again.

But February 2015 would tip the balance, sparking an explosion in the number of non-TV media discussing the bakugai phenomenon. The arrival of Chinese New Year 2015 brought with it another visible increase in Chinese tourism, making bakugai was a buzzword all over Japan.

Relations “tremble” between politics and economics
Bakugai’s brief history sheds new light on the complex, uncertain relationship that has always existed between Japan and China. Political relations between the two powers are, unfortunately, quite poor, but these resentments are undermined by a long history of intricate economic interaction. The bakugai craze, it seems, has forced Japanese people to rediscover this interdependence.

Concerns over bakugai, in turn, are ultimately tied to questions about China’s long-term economic outlook. If the Chinese economy declines going forward, bakugai stories and the anxiety behind them may disappear as well. This, however, would not be a good thing for the Japanese economy.

What, ultimately, does the future hold for China’s growing economy? Whatever the answer, it holds the same for bakugai.

Hiroshi Mori is a freelance writer specializing in neologisms, whose work has mainly focused on dictionaries. Since 2009, he has been writing the “Ryuukou Genshou” (“Popular Trends”) column in the annual Gendaiyougo no Kisochishiki (The Fundamentals of Modern Vocabulary.) Since 2010, he’s also been publishing a series of online articles titled “ Shakai o Utsushidasu Kotobatachi” (“Words That Reflect Society”) on Nikkei Business Online.
http://ignition.co/420
 

Aepsilons

ELITE MEMBER
May 29, 2014
24,976
118
35,590
Country
Japan
Location
United States
Bakugai!




Chinese tourists flooding a rural market place. Bakugai!!!


Bakugai!!


Bakugai!!!


Bakugai!!!!!!



Bakugai!!!!



Bakugai!!!!!!!


:D



 

Users Who Are Viewing This Thread (Total: 1, Members: 0, Guests: 1)


Top Bottom