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Business trends

Japan's cosmetics exports head for sixth straight annual record

Asian tourists who become repeat customers at home drive steady rise

New products from Shiseido hit the Chinese market. Japanese cosmetics brands are cultivating demand from customers who have returned from trips to Japan. (Photo by Tsukasa Morikuni)

TOKYO -- Japan's cosmetics exports are on track to surpass 500 billion yen ($4.53 billion) for the first time in 2018, marking a sixth consecutive record year, thanks to Asian tourists who continue to buy these products after returning home.

Exports in the January-November period grew 44% on the year to 482.8 billion yen, according to a tally of 16 types of cosmetics compiled from trade data by Nikkei. Demand for gifts tends to boost exports in December, and with major cosmetics makers' plants running at high capacities, the full-year figure is expected to reach around 520 billion yen.

Mainland China was the top buyer from January through November, accounting for 34.9% of exports by value, followed by Hong Kong at 25.9%, South Korea at 10.3%, Taiwan at 7.3% and Singapore at 7.3%. Asia accounted for 90% of the total.

Japan's cosmetics exports have tripled in the last four years along with a rise in visitors to Japan. Exports exceeded imports for the first time in 2016 as inbound tourism creates new customers for high-quality Japanese goods who continue to buy them online or in stores upon returning home.

Cosmetics exports are likely to keep climbing in 2019. China will implement in January its first e-commerce law, which will require domestic online platforms to register with the government. With the crackdown on illegal marketing, direct exports of Japanese cosmetics are expected to increase as smaller Chinese retailers that sell goods procured directly from shops in Japan decline.

Top cosmetics makers are also actively expanding their sales. Shiseido plans to begin in 2019 officially selling new products in China from its namesake mainstay brand, which launched worldwide this fall. The company will open a facility for collaboration with Alibaba Group in Hangzhou from January and jointly develop products with the Chinese e-commerce empire.

Kao plans to double the number of stores in China carrying its popular Freeplus skin care brand to more than 2,000 by 2020. It will also cultivate sales for its makeup brand Kate, which launched a Chinese marketing campaign in December. Kose is accelerating the online sales campaign it began in China this autumn for its luxury brand Decorte.

Japanese cosmetics makers are increasing the capacity of domestic plants to meet the surging export demand. Shiseido plans to bring a new domestic factory online in 2019 for the first time in 36 years, in Tochigi Prefecture, to produce more items like skin care products. It will also begin operations at a new facility in Osaka Prefecture in 2020.

Kao will roughly double production for its Freeplus brand from 2017 levels, too, by investing in its main factory in Kanagawa Prefecture. Boosting domestic production is likely to encourage exports further by increasing supplies of "made-in-Japan" cosmetics.

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