In Japan, luxury brand products reach consumers via one of the following two sales channels, regular distributors or dealers in parallel imports. (Please note that the sale of parallel imported goods is not illegal in Japan.) While luxury brands strive to develop sales, they are not always willing to engage in online sales due to the need to protect the image of their products. Nevertheless the online sale of branded products by authorized retailers is gradually increasing. As mentioned above, the sale of parallel imports is not prohibited in Japan, and as a result, online marketplaces are selling a mixture of genuine brand-name and sports brand products together with counterfeit products in the guise of “parallel imports,” as well as products that are clearly counterfeit and are sold in seemingly honest way.
As in many other countries, the top producer and exporter of counterfeit goods distributed in Japan is China, accounting for 77.4% of all fake goods flowing into the country, but products from Vietnam are also on the rise, reaching 10.7% last year.
In 2021, 820.000 fake items were stopped at the border by Japan Customs. Given that, it is impossible for Customs to examine all imported goods, this figure is probably only the tip of the iceberg of fake items imported in Japan.
Until recently, many Japanese consumers purchased fake items knowingly. However, the main efforts today are focussed on how to prevent consumers from accessing fraudulent websites (mostly operated abroad) which are deceitfully selling counterfeit products to consumers who are deceived either into buying counterfeits despite their wish to purchase authentic products, or into buying products that will never be delivered, or which intend to collect buyers’ information such as credit card information. The Consumer Affairs Agency (CAA) had the Cross-border Consumer Center set up in the National Consumer Affairs Center of Japan (NCAC) to support consumers who have inadvertently bought counterfeit goods. The CAA also publishes on its website the names of online stores that sell counterfeit goods. Furthermore, the National Police Agency protects consumers by providing information on websites selling counterfeit products to the security software distributors and the international organisation APWG (Anti-Phishing Working Group) so that alerts can be displayed on web browsers.
Yahoo! and Rakuten, major Japanese online B2C websites, are also playing an important role in combating counterfeit products. For example, these online websites are endeavouring to clean up websites by regularly exchanging information on counterfeits and criminal dealers with brands, via IP rights-holders’ associations. Further, in order to “clean up” their shopping websites, site operators make a test purchase to verify the authenticity of the products, with the cooperation of the relevant brand, when an item posted for sale is suspected of being a counterfeit product because of, inter alia, its extremely low sale price or information given by a consumer. If the said item turns out to be counterfeit, the shop who has put the counterfeit product for sale may be banned from the shopping website.
Some foreign-capital B2C websites, which have been left far behind in the efforts to fight against counterfeit products, are heading in a good direction, probably as a result of efforts to improve. However, there are still some problems in the future, such as the lack of proper implementation of account suspension measures and the decrease of the voluntary human patrols due to the priority given to elimination by robot searches.
The Consumer Affairs Agency has begun to focus on consumer protection, especially on B2C sites, by passing a law in April 2021 on the Act for the Protection of Consumers who use Digital Platforms.
As for the fast-growing Flea market, some websites which have been focusing on the eradication of counterfeit goods, have obtained satisfactory results in the same degree as those of existing auction services. On the other hand, others are still unable to prevent the distribution of counterfeit goods due to incompleteness of their countermeasures.
Finally, concerted efforts are being made by different sectors in Japan to set up a framework to eliminate counterfeit products. Some of their approaches are more advanced than those implemented in Europe or the USA. However, we recognize that there are problems to be addressed in the future, such as maintaining a cooperation with the websites and monitoring the operational status of the revised Trademark Law.
We list the main issues and recommendations below, for which we hope for a significant progress.