Japan: A major destination for home textiles
The market for home textiles has been affected by overall weak personal consumption
in Japan. As a result, demand for home textiles has been very weak. In particular,
demand related to new housing starts and gifts showed remarkable falls. Reflecting
growing interest in interiors among consumers, demand for home textile products
with casual designs that can meet new consumer lifestyles remain very strong,
either imported or domestic products.
Home textile imports have been growing steadily, rising 6.8 per cent in 2002
to 109.89 million dozen worth US$ 79.8 billion (up 0.2 per cent) and setting
a new all time record. The bulk of these imports 84.9 per cent consists of towels,
numbering 93.34 million dozen (up 6.3 per cent) worth US$ 3.9 billion (55.0
per cent of import total). Japanese towel makers and their subcontractor have
been moving production to China and other Asian nations that offer lower production
costs. Many imports from these countries are made with capital participation
and technical assistance from Japan. Imports of bedlinens remained at previous
year levels in 2002 (7.8 million dozen), while table linen imports soared to
4.22 million dozen (up 28.1 per cent) after little past movement, mainly from
Imports by place of origin
The leading exporters of towels to Japan are China (71.5 per cent) and Vietnam
(26.5 per cent), with virtually all imports coming from just these two countries.
Low price imports from China skyrocketed in 1999 and 2000 and the competition
dealt a serious blow to the Japanese towel industry.
In February of 2001 the Japan Towel Industry Association petitioned that the
Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry initiate safeguards (emergency import
restrictions) under terms of the WTO textile agreement. The government launched
an inquiry in April of 2001, and these steps put a damper on import growth from
China in 2001. There was considerable fluctuation from month to month during
2002, but for the whole year imports were up 6.3 per cent to 6.67 million dozen.
Imports market share in Japan
There is no statistical data on domestic production of home textile as a whole.
Therefore, it is unclear exactly how large a market share imports have. According
to the Japan Towel Industry Association, imports share of the towel market
soared from 46.7 per cent to 64.0 per cent between 1996 and 2000. The association
petitioned in February of 2001 that the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry
initiate WTO safeguard measures against towels from China and Vietnam.
Key considerations related to importing
Regulations and Procedural Requirements at the Time of Importation
In some cases, importation of home textile is subject to the Foreign Exchange
and Foreign Trade Law.
Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Law (Import Trade Control
Under provision of the Import Trade Control Order by the Foreign Exchange and
Foreign Trade Law, home textile of silk originated in or shipped from certain
countries are required importing procedures as No. 2 approved items or prior
Regulations and Procedural Requirements at the Time of
The sale of home textiles is subject to provisions of the Household Goods Quality
Household Goods Quality Labeling Law
The law stipulates the format and content of quality labeling for products designed
for everyday household use. The purpose is to protect and benefit the consumers
by providing information that helps them choose products and informs them about
how to use the products correctly. Home textiles must bear labeling as specified
by the Household Goods Quality Labeling Law. Products cannot be sold without
Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Law
Trade Licensing Division, Trade and Economic Cooperation Bureau, Ministry of
Economy, Trade and Industry. Household Goods Quality Labeling Law Product Safety
Division, Consumer Affairs Department, Commerce and Information Policy Bureau,
Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry
Legally Required Labeling
Household Goods Quality Labeling Law
The Textile Product Quality Labeling Standards based on the Household Goods
Labeling Law specify both the label content and format.
Product characteristics - Comparisons with Japanese
Linens were once thought of as a hemp article, but nowadays a wide variety of
silk or cotton textiles used in the home are referred to as linens.
Earlier, most imported sheets, pillow covers and other types of bedlinens were
sold to hotels and other commercial users. Recently, many products for home-use
have been imported.
The table linen market is split between luxury grade products from Western countries
and low priced products from elsewhere in Asia. Japanese made table linens fall
in the middle in terms of sales patterns, with some apparent degree of differentiation
The most commonly used type of toilet linen and kitchen linen is towels. Inexpensive
imports from China, Vietnam and other Asian countries are often used as oshibori
towels, the heated towels often given to restaurant customers for refreshment
before dining. Japanese-made toilet and kitchen linens are mainly sold to ordinary
Characteristics of products from different countries/regions
Overall, imported home textiles mostly come from China and other Asian countries,
and their main appeal lies not in their design or styling but rather in their
price. In addition, some Japanese manufacturing wholesalers who do contract
and OEM work have been shifting production to Asian countries and OEM work have
been shifting production to Asian countries to take advantage of lower wage
costs. In the process these companies have obtained capital holdings in offshore
enterprises, provided technical guidance to business partners, and worked to
cut production costs. Manufacturer wholesalers are companies that do not own
their own production facilities but rather outsource production and handle the
distribution and marketing functions themselves.
Sheets and pillow covers from Asian countries are sold mainly to linen supply
companies, while bath towels and oshibori towels are used either
as corporate gifts or by linen supply companies. Countries such as China and
India, which are also major cotton producers, are especially well positioned
to export low priced merchandise to Japan. On the other hand, Germany, France
and other European nations remain the leading suppliers of popular high-fashion
Domestic distribution system and business practices
Domestic market conditions
In Japan the very term home textiles is still somewhat unfamiliar.
Towels and sheets are still more often purchased as gifts than for personal
use. This is particularly the case with towels, where traditional year-end and
mid-summer gift giving accounts for about 90 per cent of all sales. Chronic
recession has dramatically reduced corporate gift giving while imports selling
for half the price has seen a wave of bankruptcies among small Japanese towel
makers. Corporate membership in the Japan Towel Industry Association dropped
from 925 firms in 1990 to just 457 in 2000.
Japanese-made sheets, pillow covers and other types of bedlinens, especially
those without high fashion appeal, are distributed mainly through bedlinens
and pillow covers to hotels, hospitals and other institutional users increasingly
use imports. These products are mostly imported by general trading companies
or specialty trading companies and sold directly to linen service companies.
Other types of imported covers are distributed from trading companies to manufacturer
wholesalers (brand owners) or department stores.
Japanese-made table cloths, napkins and other types of table linens, which mainly
consist of practical use items without high fashion appeal, are mostly distributed
from manufacturer wholesaler to fabric wholesaler and finally to department
stores and mass merchandisers. Imports are usually handled by general trading
companies or specialty trading companies before being distributed to manufacturer
wholesalers, department stores, etc. Towels and other types of toilet linen
and kitchen linen are sold through department stores and mass merchandisers,
although specialty stores and bedding stores also account for a fairly large
share of sales. Imported oshibori towels and other commercial use
towels are distributed through linen supply channels, while other items pass
through the same channels as table linens. In recent years there has been an
increase in direct imports from overseas manufacturers by manufacturer wholesalers,
mass merchandisers and department stores, although the incidence remains comparatively
small. There has also been an increase in mail-order sales by department stores
and mail order houses.
Key Considerations for entering the Japanese market
Home textiles from the West are imported through general trading companies and
specialty textile trading companies, and then are distributed via wholesalers
and dealer agents to department stores, specialty stores and other outlets.
Many domestic brand makers serve as importer agents for foreign brand names,
and they distribute through the same channels as their own products. Department
stores and mass merchandisers increasingly import direct from abroad or bring
in development imports for sale under private brand labels.