Belt-tightening in Japan during the country's first bout of inflation for decades has seen department store clothing sales tumble 14% in May and June to JPY199.7bn (US$1.87bn), just-style has learnt.

A spokeswoman for one of Japan's biggest department store operators, Aeon, told just-style: "The drop for branded apparel has been most pronounced."

In face of the nationwide slump Aeon said it now plans to close about 40 outlets by the end of its next business year.

"These stores have some deficit and it seems to be difficult to improve its profitability with renovation. From now on, we will target shopping malls for new locations," she added.

Salaries for most consumers are now falling behind the rate of inflation and rising fuel prices have discouraged shopping in out of town malls.

Clothing, which accounts for 34% of overall sales, has been hit particularly hard. Sales of big tag items, such as foreign brands, have abruptly plunged since April too.

By Michael Fitzpatrick.