Duty-free sales at Japan's department stores in March surged nearly 2.5-fold from a year earlier to a record 49.5 billion yen ($320 million), as demand for luxury brands were boosted by the weak yen amid an influx of travelers during cherry blossom season, data by an industry body showed Thursday.

The figure was the highest since comparable data became available in October 2014, surpassing pre-pandemic levels of 2019 for the ninth straight month, while the number of duty-free shoppers also set a fresh record for March at 454,000, the Japan Department Stores Association said.

Overall same-store sales at 177 stores operated by 71 companies increased 9.9 percent from a year earlier to 510.9 billion yen, marking the 25th straight month of growth.

While the yen's depreciation has helped bolster sales for department stores, an association official noted that the currency's move also has some negative impacts such as raising prices of imported goods. As the yen remained weak through March, the Japanese currency hit a 34-year low against the U.S. dollar late in the month.

"It would be ideal if we could achieve some balance," the official said.

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