Written by By Eugene Hoshiko, CNN Tokyo, Japan
In 2016, Koh Min-Moon, the founder of one of Japan’s best-known luxury resorts, hosted an event to raise awareness on black history.
In the middle of Tokyo’s Haneda airport, he was joined by two tourists — an African-American family from the US and a Korean-American family from Korea.
The two families had a heart-to-heart at the customs hall. They discussed different aspects of each other’s racial identity and challenges they’d faced as Japanese people. Afterwards, the two families were photographed with their meeting captured in a selfie shared on Koh Min-Moon’s Instagram account.
“Thank you for understanding the importance of this ritual. Thank you for understanding the true meaning of this relationship and being able to share, interact, and connect,” wrote Koh Min-Moon, in English.
.@EKB @MBGNaman | Tembo will dedicate “It Is Ok In One’s Place” in Nairobi. What do you think about coming to Japan to perform? https://t.co/Y7FZJ0g1iJ pic.twitter.com/TiylaxG7S9 CNN Worldwide (@cnni) 20 Feb 2018
A year later, the travel industry is still grappling with the fallout. Koh Min-Moon’s event was a “flash mob” gesture intended to mark the release of the film “Infinity War,” a hit Marvel Cinematic Universe film.
This alone can’t be the reason why Black Friday, Japan’s largest national shopping holiday, has become the primary avenue for Japanese consumers to hunt for holiday bargains.
The practice dates back to the time of the Japanese Imperial Army, when Japanese troops, stationed in China during the 1910-1945 Qing Dynasty, welcomed troops from overseas, pushing aside local traditions.
Soldiers returning from overseas would take advantage of the holiday, known as “King Atamba” (同普全), to shop for goods in China. Despite Japan’s separation from China in 1948, the practice continued.
Nowadays, Japanese consumers look forward to the day, which falls on the 10th day of the month. It’s known as a nationwide “sale day,” featuring discounts of up to 80% on products ranging from electronics to groceries to air travel.
Companies are known to put their products on sale early and extend these prices in the coming months. Japanese customers take advantage of the cut-price offers and retailers gear up to up their sales, similar to online-only holiday promotions worldwide.
It’s estimated that Ube na wa Soya Bean Cake’s price has been slashed to below 30 yen (39 cents) to match the discounts of popular sweet confectionery such as Baobab Popcorn and Baobab Mousse.
At the center of the fray are Bonjour Japan, a travel website launched in 2012 that encourages Japanese tourists to explore neighborhoods in Tokyo. The site’s marketing campaign aims to prove that there’s far more to the city than office buildings and train stations.
In the lead-up to Black Friday, Bonjour Japan is offering free black and white photos of food at new dinner spots.
‘Conversation set pieces’
“Obviously it is a safe space for Japanese travel companies to promote their brands and not get into trouble,” says Naomi Aoki, executive assistant director for public relations at the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO).
Japanese visitors can visit freerashington.org, travel.georgetown.edu and tripzero.com to get more insight into the US’s holiday destination. They can also discuss the issue on social media by using the hashtag #BlackFridayJapan — a Japanese version of #BlackFriday in the US.
Black Friday sales have also been adopted by Japanese advertisers targeting more ethnic travelers. Daikanyama Gateway has a popular annual street fair filled with goods, culture and free cultural exhibitions, which also features live music and food stalls.
Other “conversation set pieces” include Kasparai Travel Club’s Aquaviolent Jewelry Station, which opened in 2015, and Catch’s VR Anime Station, which opens at the beginning of March. Both stores are designed to facilitate a conversation with customers about the art and culture of Japan.
But JNTO’s Aoki is cautious about encouraging consumers to go on the next Black Friday if they don’t like the sales.
“If people aren’t enjoying the discounts, they should avoid it. If sales are becoming extreme or painful for them, then they should consider a different shopping trip,” she said.