With his departure time looming and a guide fretting to get back to the ship, Liang Nan has been left in a corner of the Canal City shopping mall, in Japan’s southern port of Fukuoka, hunched over a mobile phone.
He has three tasks to perform: guard a huge, growing mountain of shopping, check with nagging relatives back home that everything they asked for has been bought, and discover online just how badly his wife’s A shares are doing.
The rest of Mr Liang’s party — wife, toddler, mother and mother-in-law — are still roaring around the Fukuoka branch of Laox in a state of retail fervour. The store, once known throughout Japan as an electronics specialist, has broadened its offerings here to please its newest customers: Chinese, arriving on cruise ships that bring in as many as 4,900 at a time, with estimated average spending of Y90,000 ($750) each and with just a few hours to shop before they set sail back to Tianjin or Shanghai.
In 2014, 91 cruise ships travelled from China to Fukuoka. This year the port is expecting nearly three times that number. Costa, Royal Caribbean and others are bolstering their Asian fleets to make all this happen.
The Chinese coming here used to be the rich, says Miwa Mochizuki, a spokeswoman for the Canal City mall. Now it is the middle class. Coming by sea makes sense for China’s quality-seeking shoppers, she adds, because the only limit on baggage is what you can cram into your cabin. The great benefit of the cruise ships, says Fukuoka’s mayor, Takashima Soichiro, is that they can deliver the lucrative “shopping bomb” exploding in his city.
运河城购物中心发言人望月美和(Miwa Mochizuki)表示，过去来这儿购物的中国人通常是有钱人，而今成了中产阶层。她说，对于追求品质的中国购物者而言，坐船更明智些，因为乘船对行李的唯一限制就是看你能往自己的船舱里塞多少东西。福冈市长高岛宗一郎(Takashima Soichiro)表示，这些邮轮的一大好处，就是可以运来大批“购物狂”，为他的城市带来巨额利益。
“A third of these are for us, the rest is for family in Hebei,” says Mr Liang, sorting through a collection of bags that contain six rice cookers, four floor-cleaning robots, two air purifiers, an blood-pressure monitor, a stack of metallic vacuum flasks, a dozen electric toothbrushes and two face massagers (for men).
“I think she [my wife] has gone crazy,” he says. “But I don’t mind. If her shares keep falling, we may not come back to Japan for a while.”
Electronics are still the main feature of Laox, say sales staff from China’s Fujian and Zhejiang provinces, but customers leave with endless bags of nappies, nail-clippers, health supplements, diet shakes, tights, thermometers, wrinkle-reducing face packs and silicone rice spoons — goods whose quality are thought guaranteed simply because they are made in Japan.
On the floors below Laox, Chinese visitors blast through local clothes retailers and luxury goods outlets where loudspeakers bellow last-minute offers in Mandarin before the coaches leave for the ship. In the pharmacy Matsumoto Kiyoshi, where competing Japanese brands of rose-scented eyedrops are in hot demand, a Shanghai woman being tugged at the sleeve by her guide demands shop staff tell her which of three brands of Japanese condoms works best.
The impact of all this on Fukuoka — a city whose 1.5m population will this year be passed by the total number of foreign visitors — has been transformational. Japan’s wider inbound tourism boom has provided Shinzo Abe’s economic growth story with a timely boost: Nomura just raised its forecasts for total visitor numbers to 17.44m for 2015.
But in Fukuoka, whose tax revenues and population are the fastest-rising in Japan as a result of the tourists, the effect is more noticeable. The city authorities are rushing to find empty spots for coach parking before the city’s roads grind to a halt. The port last week opened a new cruise terminal that quadruples immigration processing capacity.
Mr Takashima travelled last week to Tokyo to ask the government for a budget to extend the jetty by 100 metres to accommodate the largest cruise ships in the world. Fukuoka, he says, is the first city in Japan to undergo a change where Japanese feel like a minority.
The Chinese cruise passengers in Canal City appear unbothered by unfolding events in the mainland markets — a holding of nerve that bullish analysts say will be true across China’s consumer economy. There is little evidence, says Julian Evans-Pritchard, China Economist at Capital Economics, that stock prices make a meaningful difference to consumption in China.
运河城商场里的中国游客似乎并没受到近期中国内地市场波动的影响。乐观的分析师表示，这种冷静的态度可能真实地反映了中国整体消费经济领域的状况。凯投宏观(Capital Economics)的中国经济学家朱利安埃文斯-普里查德(Julian Evans-Pritchard)表示，没有证据表明，股价对中国的消费状况有切实的影响。
“Given that the stock market didn’t provide any noticeable boost to spending on the way up, there is no reason to expect it to be a drag on the way down,” he wrote in a note to clients yesterday.
But when Ms Liang finally emerges from Laox, the first question she asks her husband is about stocks. This was Monday — a session of relative calm amid the storm — and the problems seemed far away from Canal City. She asks for another two minutes, and heads back into the shop to buy a final box of deluxe Japanese stomach medicine.