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Japan boycott evolves as Koreans begin to dig in

Campaign is moving beyond the beer ban and getting creative

July 26,2019
From left: Members of the Parcel Delivery Workers’ Solidarity Union announce Wednesday their refusal to deliver Uniqlo products in front of the former Japanese Embassy in Seoul. Check-in counters for flights to Japan at Incheon International Airport remain largely empty as Koreans boycott travel to the country. Banners on boycotting Japanese goods are displayed inside the Suyu Traditional Market in Seoul. [YONHAP]
The boycott of Japanese products appears to be growing in scale and scope, as data and anecdotes suggest more people and companies are participating and discontentment is being expressed in more creative and energetic ways.

WeMakePrice Tour, the tourism arm of an e-commerce operator, said on Thursday the cancellation rate for flight tickets to Japan shot up from 9 percent in the fourth week of June to as much as 44 percent in the third week of July.

New flight reservations for Japanese destinations fell. Of all flight tickets booked in the fourth week of June, those bound for Japan accounted for 25 percent, but the portion has declined to 10 percent.

“Let alone new bookings for Japan, inquiries on the trips to the country have declined,” said a spokesman with the tourism agency.

Japanese cities except Osaka fell off the top of the list of favorite destinations for Korea travelers over the past three weeks.

Osaka ranked second before Japan imposed restrictions earlier in July on the export of key materials for semiconductors, displays and smartphones. Fukuoka was fifth and Tokyo ninth. But Fukuoka and Osaka were ousted from the top 10 list.

As alternatives to Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore have become more popular, according to WeMakePrice Tour.

The number of prospective buyers of Japanese cars has also decreased, according to Getcha, an online car price information provider, on Thursday.

The platform said it received 1,374 requests from prospective car buyers for price quotes on Japanese cars in the first 15 days of July, down 41 percent from the 2,341 in the 15 days between June 16 and June 30.

Inquiries for Lexus cars fell by 64 percent over the same period, followed by Honda at 59 percent, Toyota at 38 percent and Nissan at 17 percent. But as Nissan offered a hefty promotion on some Infinity models, inquiries on the high-end brand increased 7 percent.

“We might need further analysis, but inquiries on Japanese brands visibly dropped, which means it would be rational to think the Japanese product boycott has dealt a blow,” said a researcher at the Getcha’s research center.

The official data on Japanese car sales this month is not yet available and will be released on Aug. 5 by the Korea Automobile Importers and Distributors Association.

Unionized parcel delivery workers nationwide have started a collective move against Japan by issuing an announcement on Wednesday that they will refuse to deliver Uniqlo products.

Unionized employees at large discount chains also declared on the same day they would stop providing information about Japanese products and would no longer usher customers to the location of Japanese products. The union also asked three major discount chains to stop selling Japanese products.

“Uniqlo is a representative Japanese company that has consistently used the Rising Sun Flag for its clothing design,” said the delivery union in a joint statement on Wednesday at a press conference in front of the Japanese Embassy in Jongno District, central Seoul.

“We censure the [Prime Minister Shinzo] Abe administration’s economic retaliation and will join the nationwide anti-Japanese movement by refusing to deliver Uniqlo products.”

The union also vowed to attach stickers condemning Japan’s move on each and every delivery vehicle nationwide.

Uniqlo Korea was established as a joint venture between Japan’s Fast Retailing Group and Lotte Shopping in 2004. The former holds a 51-percent stake, and the latter a 49-percent stake. Sales at the Korean unit grew at a rapid pace, posting annual revenue of 1 trillion won ($846.61 billion) in 2015 for the first time. Now there are 187 Uniqlo stores nationwide, and revenue for 2017 was 1.37 trillion won.

But the brand became a symbol of the anti-Japanese movement on the suspicion that the company supports right-wing groups within Japan. The company caused a stir when it released a T-shirt with a mark reminiscent of the Rising Sun Flag in 2010.

Consumers are quick to respond. When the Yangjae branch of Emart held a promotion to sell six 350-milliliter (11.8-fluid-ounce) cans of Asahi Black beer for 5,000 won on Monday, the news quickly spread over social media, and some consumers called to protest the move. But Emart claims it was a promotional event that regularly took place before.

“We withdrew the event right away,” said an Emart spokesman.

As the list of Japanese brands and products subject to the boycott circulates over the internet, consumer product companies are on alert.

“We are doing our best not to become a target of the boycott movement,” said an industry insider who asked not to be named, “but you never know, and we are cautiously watching the situation.”

Convenience stores - like CU, 7-Eleven, GS25 and Emart 24 - will stop selling some Japanese beers and exclude all of them from its four-cans-for-10,000 won promotions. Lotte Mart became the first discount chain in Korea to stop accepting new stock of Japanese beer, but will continue selling remaining inventory until it runs out.

Some companies have engaged in proactive marketing that takes advantage of the situation. High1 Resort in Gangwon said on July 19 it will offer a 540,000-won package for 129,000 won to any customer who shows them proof he or she canceled flights to a foreign destination.

In just four days, 14 customers took advantage of the offer, and 10 were those who had planned a trip to Japan.

Nonghyup Mart in Gokseong, South Jeolla, said on July 19 it would give away 10-kilogram (22-pound) sacks of rice through Tuesday to customers who have canceled a trip to Japan that cost at least 1 million won. The conditions are that the trip was supposed to start before July 18 and the cancellation was made after July 12.

“Retailers are supposed to be cautious about using the anti-Japanese movement as a marketing scheme, given it may actually rouse antipathy among some consumers,” said Lee Eun-hee, professor of consumer science at Inha University.

The boycott is leading to a degree of violence.

A group of shop owners at a market in Guwol Munhwaro in Namdong District, Incheon, destroyed a silver Lexus sedan with iron pipes after announcing they would join the anti-Japanese movement.

The car belonged to a 47-year-old shop owner who has owned it for eight years.

The group said they would keep the vehicle on display at the market until Japan withdraws its economic retaliation.

BY PARK KWANG-SOO, KIM YOUNG-JOO [ebusiness@joongang.co.kr]


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