Luxury Travel

Japan's New Nature Holiday May Be Just What Retailers Need

Mountain Day: Can a New Holiday Boost Japan's Economy?
  • Japan celebrates inaugural Mountain Day holiday on Aug. 11
  • Retailers, tour operators preparing for surge in spending

As Japanese prepare to head for the hills Thursday for their inaugural Mountain Day holiday, retailers and tourism operators are gearing up for an $8 billion windfall.

They’re counting on customers like school teacher Ayako Kobayashi. The 33-year-old spent more than $700 on a sleeping bag, mattress, backpack and trekking food to climb Mount Kita near Nagano last weekend. She’s looking to buy a two-person tent and a bigger backpack next, which would set her back another $1,000. The high price tag is worth it, she says.

Campers in Niigata Prefecture.
Campers in Niigata Prefecture.
Photographer: Yuriko Nakao/Bloomberg

“I can’t find words to describe the feeling of achievement that I get at the top of the mountain,” Kobayashi said. “It makes me more confident.”

While the holiday is aimed more at encouraging people to appreciate Mount Fuji and the country’s other natural attractions, businesses are counting on Mountain Day to bolster an economy threatened by a strengthening yen and weak consumer spending. The national holiday comes days before a week-long Obon festival period in which many workers take their summer vacation.

Mountain Day, coupled with Obon, will add about 820 billion yen ($8 billion) in spending across the tourism, leisure, hospitality, transportation and retail industries, according to Toshihiro Nagahama, chief economist at Dai-Ichi Life Research Institute in Tokyo.

“Japanese people aren’t used to taking paid leave from work,” Nagahama said in a telephone interview. “Even if they do take time off, they don’t really know how to make use of it. Mountain Day will encourage people take a longer vacation and go outside, which will surely boost consumption.”

Asahi Group Holdings Ltd., Japan’s largest beverage maker by market value, predicts Mountain Day will spur sales of its beer and food. “Not only climbers, but also more families and children are expected to visit mountains, and demand for our freeze-dried food is expected to increase,” said Takuo Soga, a spokesman for the Tokyo-based company. “We’re hoping the long vacation will boost demand for beers as well.”

Snow Peak Inc., which makes titanium stoves and other camping equipment, says Japan’s expanding outdoor-venturing population will drive earnings growth for the company, whose shares have jumped almost sevenfold since their Tokyo trading debut in December 2014. Sales this year could exceed the 9.5 billion yen it forecast in May, President Toru Yamai said in an interview from his office in Tsubame-Sanjo, Niigata.

Snow Peak operating profit more than doubled in the first six months of 2016, from a year earlier, to 568 million yen, the Niigata, Japan-based company reported Tuesday on a preliminary basis after markets closed in Tokyo. That’s also 51 percent more than the company’s forecast given in May. The company reports final first-half earnings Wednesday. The shares rose 1 percent as of the close Tuesday, in line with the 0.9 percent gain in the benchmark Topix index.

Tohru Yamai
Tohru Yamai
Photographer: Yuriko Nakao/Bloomberg

“Our industry is welcoming the creation of Mountain Day,” said Yamai, a lifetime camper and the son of a mountain climber. “The harder the world becomes to live in, the stronger the demand for going outdoors. And the more digital the world gets, the more peoples’ need for ‘something real’.”

‘Urban Outdoor’

Only 6 percent of Japan’s people are active campers, according to Yamai, who’s seeking to convert the non-camping population with an “urban outdoor’’ concept aimed at winning them over with apparel and everyday items.

Sales of goods related to mountain climbing and camping totaled 200 billion yen in 2015, a record high since the Japan Productivity Center began collecting the data in 1982. Sales were 148 billion yen a decade ago, data shows.

A lobby representing alpine clubs and mountain-related groups which worked with lawmakers to introduce Mountain Day says Japanese culture is founded on mountains and the ocean, and wants the holiday to impress on citizens their responsibility to preserve nature for future generations, as well as respond to environmental challenges such as deforestation.

Japan is one of the most generous countries in the world in terms of public holidays, according to consulting firm Mercer, which noted that among the nation’s 15 holidays in 2015, 10 were either unique or rare among countries. Examples include Greenery Day, for communing with nature; Marine Day, for giving thanks to the ocean’s bounty; and Health and Sports Day, to honor the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

Sponsored Athletes

Marin Minamiya
Marin Minamiya
Source: Uniqlo Co.

The latest addition has found a supporter in 19-year-old Marin Minamiya, who became the youngest Japanese to scale the world’s highest peak in May. Minamiya, who is also the youngest among her countrymen to climb the highest peaks on all seven continents, is a Mountain Day ambassador who also endorses clothing made by Uniqlo, the casual wear chain owned by Fast Retailing Co.

Minamiya was wearing a Uniqlo down suit when she reached the Mt. Everest summit, and says the brand’s clothes are “comfortable, warm, affordable and with good technology” that makes them suitable for mountains up to 6,500 meters (21,000 feet). “I wore Uniqlo and climbed the Seven Summits -- and that proved that it’s possible,” she said in an interview.

Fast Retailing is among clothing companies aligning with sports and the outdoors, sponsoring athletes, including Asia’s highest-ranked tennis player Kei Nishikori, the world’s No. 1 tennis player Novak Djokovic, and Australian golfer Adam Scott. It has no immediate plan to develop a specialized range for mountain climbing, according to Masahiko Nakasuji, the company’s senior vice president who oversees Uniqlo’s global marketing.

“Our distinctive aim and characteristic is to be able to introduce items with both functionality and fashion that can also be used for sports -- but at a lower price,” he said.

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