The demographic shift is partly confirmed by Japanese tourism data showing 49 per cent of Chinese families travelling here in the second quarter last year earned around $US40,000 or less.
These people often stretch their budgets to make the trip, as demonstrated by anecdotal stories in the hotel industry of overcrowded hotel rooms, piles of wrapping trash and cooking even when there are no facilities. Too busy to shop but never too busy to eat and drink!
This segment of travellers has less tolerance for financial setbacks and is naturally skittish. Thus, with the losses many Chinese families are suffering in the stock market, once the current cycle of already-booked tourists rotates out of Japan we believe the inbound numbers will take a hit, at least until stocks (and the related housing market) stabilise again.
If it doesn't stabilise in a favorable way, then the inbound numbers will go into reverse for a while, at least until Japan's marketing and tourism authorities wake up and start increasing marketing and incentives for other Asian source markets.
The over-focus of the Japanese government and tourism industry on the China market is of course understandable given the huge financial benefits being enjoyed by companies on the shopping lists of our Chinese guests.
Take electronics retailer Bic Camera for example. This group enjoyed a record net profit of ¥2 billion in the second quarter of 2015, 48 per cent more than the same period in 2014, thanks mostly to tourists.
The company's revenues actually fell by 2 per cent year-on-year but because tax-free sales doubled to 11 per cent of overall sales and Chinese tourists buy more high-margin home appliances, the company's profits came in higher.
Likewise, whether it was electronics, apparel, accommodation, railway tickets, or food, the story has been the same right across the nation.
This is why the idea there might be less Chinese tourists for a while has spooked the Japanese stock market. Some companies directly in the flow of inbound tourist money have seen their stock prices plunge -- such as Asics and Matsuya department store, both of which are at 2015-16 lows.
Does this mean 2016 is going to be a year of doom and gloom for the Chinese inbound tourism sector? Not necessarily.
Obviously things will not go well if the Chinese and perhaps global stock markets go into free fall. But the majority of analysts around the world are saying this appears to be a temporary correction and not the start of a deeper bear market.
We are not economists but common sense tells us this is probably a reasonable assessment, if only because the Chinese government can still go a lot further in stock market controls, devaluing its currency and curbing the outflow of capital, if it wants.
There are several other threats to the Chinese inbound tourism sector this year besides the loss of the shopping-centric segment. Firstly, the emerging repeater 'free independent traveler' (FIT) travel segment, which accounts for about 25 per cent of inbound travellers from China, will be hit if there is a substantial and sustained increase in the yen against the renminbi.
The FX rate at the start of the Chinese traveller boom to Japan in 2013 suggests anything above ¥15 to the renminbi will be impactful. We're at ¥17 at the moment.
Secondly, in the event of another Diaoyudao/Senkaku confrontation all travel segments will be hit.
Terrie Lloyd is a long-term technology and media entrepreneur living in Japan. This is an edited version of his weekly blog from Japan Terrie's Take.