Magazine article International Trade Forum

Silk Goods: Selling to the Japanese Market

Magazine article International Trade Forum

Silk Goods: Selling to the Japanese Market

Article excerpt

Japan is the world's largest consumer of silk and silk products, although its overall demand for these goods has shown a downward trend during the last several decades. In 1991 its total purchases of silk and silk products came to an estimated 18,000 tons (in raw silk equivalent), or approximately 25% of world raw silk production, with imports accounting for well over half of the total. The record level of raw silk imports that year helped offset a decline in domestic raw silk output that has been underway for some time.

The overall decrease in Japan's consumption of silk goods since a peak in the 1960s reflects in particular a drop in sales of kimonos. Demand for this traditional garment is expected to shrink further in the future, while purchases of European and North American style clothes are foreseen to increase. Expanded sales of the latter are not likely to offset the decline in kimono sales, however, and total consumption of silk and silk products is therefore forecast to continue its gradual downward movement. Because Japan's raw silk output will also probably continue to contract, exporters in silk-producing countries should be able to find marketing opportunities for some silk products.

Imports of raw silk

In 1991 raw silk imports reached 2,765 tons, representing a 30% rise over 1990 and 90% for the previous five years. Japan's main foreign supplier of raw silk is China. Although the Republic of Korea was also traditionally a major source, it has not exported raw silk to Japan for some time because of a decline in production. Japan's raw silk imports from other countries are quite low, except for Brazil and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. This trade pattern is not expected to change to any great extent in the future, as silk from most other sources, including several in Asia, tends to be of colours and grades that do not meet buyers' requirements. Imports from Brazil could, however, increase in the future, if the country's available supplies expand. Japanese firms have concluded several joint ventures in raw silk production with foreign partners, including Brazil. Furthermore, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea has an arrangement with some Japanese users to supply dyed raw silk, and the possibility of expanding such imports also exists.

The Sugar and Silk Price Stabilization Agency is the sole importer of raw silk in Japan except that used in bonded areas, although actual imports are commissioned to a number of traders and users. (The Agency has a role in maintaining stable prices of raw silk in the country by keeping buffer stocks.)

Silk manufactures

Japan's consumption of silk manufactured goods is low compared with that of goods made of other fabrics. Around 70% of the silk materials purchased in the country go into the production of kimonos and accessories, representing approximately 12,700 tons of silk fabrics in 1991. In contrast, domestic manufacture of silk apparel of European and North American styles comes to only about 5,500 tons annually. In the latter category, about 3,700 tons of silk articles are imported each year. Overall roughly 40% of the silk manufactures retailed in Japan are imported, although the figure varies among items.

Kimonos and their accessories:

Of total Japanese imports of silk manufactured goods in 1991, 18% consisted of kimonos and other Japanese-style wearing apparel. Kimonos are imported exclusively from China. About two-thirds of these imports are made of silk fabric sent from Japan, to meet Japanese buyers' requirements concerning fabric quality and design. As the Chinese embroidering techniques used on kimonos and their sashes are highly appreciated in Japan, China will probably remain a major source for these items, particularly as such skills are in short supply in Japan.

Domestic production of kimonos is forecast to go down faster than demand over the next several years, and Japan is therefore expected to rely more heavily on such imports in the future. …

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