Just hearing the word "bubble," when applied to economics, is enough to make many Japanese adults cringe, as it stirs up memories of boom-and-bust period from the mid-1980s to the early 1990s -- when stock inflation set the whole nation off on a spending binge and it was party, party, party until the securities and real estate prices headed south.
Shukan Post reveals that seven months on from the catastrophic March 11 earthquake and tsunami, at least some parts of northeast Japan are already starting to spring back with a vengeance.
Stroll along the streets of Sendai's major drinking areas, and it's like 3/11 never happened. Pricy specialty restaurants serving tempura and sukiyaki enjoy full houses on consecutive evenings.
"I get the feeling things are back to normal," the manager of one shop tells the magazine. "Compared with this time a year ago, we're getting 1.5 to 2 times the numbers of customers. And they're spending more per head -- before, our 7,000 yen course was popular, but after the earthquake, more people are ordering our most expensive 15,000 yen set meals. And I understand that we're not the only ones; places where businessmen take customers on their expense accounts, like 'ryotei' (geisha houses) and drinking establishments are also full of customers."
The explanation for the boom seems to be that the companies contracted for the recovery have set up shop in Tohoku.
"Many of them work for general contractors based outside our prefecture," he remarks. "Just before they came here, we were getting lots of people from automotive-related businesses in the Kanto region."
The tsunami of money flowing in has also meant a windfall for women working in the water trade in entertainment areas like Sendai's sprawling Kokubun-cho.
"Previously, Sendai people didn't spend a lot of money at cabaret clubs. But after the earthquake, more people have been coming from outside the prefecture, and it's common for them to order a bottle or two of Dom Perignon," says one hostess. "When I accompanied a company president from Kansai, he bought me a 70,000 yen cosmetics pouch and a pair of new shoes for 20,000 yen, and then on top of that, he handed me 30,000 yen in cash, saying, 'Get yourself a beauty treatment or have a tasty meal.'
"And a businessman from Tokyo invited three or four hostesses to accompany him to an onsen. Since that's never happened before, I guess you can conclude that business must be pretty good," she chuckled.
A survey by an association of Sendai department stores found that sales turnover rose for four straight months from June, and were also up 6.8% year-on from 2010 -- as opposed to a 1.7% nationwide average decline during the same period.
Sales of pricy watch brands such as Rolex were said to have doubled. Some people appear to be spending their insurance payouts, but there's another aspect to the outlays.
"Since you only live once, people now are springing for expensive cars in the 5 million yen class, as if they're bent on enjoying just one thing in their lives," a dealer of imported cars tells Shukan Post.
Numerous couples are also tying the knot with expensive engagement rings, and men are also buying gifts like designer handbags for their wives as anniversary gifts.
The value of real estate properties in Sendai suburbs has also soared, with price per tsubo of land reportedly up fivefold -- a jump not seen in Japan since bubble era of the late 1980s.
"Losses from the March 11 damage exceeded the 1995 Hanshin Earthquake by twofold, and it was expected that the pace of recovery would be slow," says Taro Saito, a senior researcher at the NLI Research Institute. "But the supply chain achieved recovery within one month and economic activities have been faster than anticipated.
"While the recovery might still be affected by concerns like the current crisis in Europe, if the Japanese government can allocate a budget of 10 trillion yen, I think we can count on even better results."© Japan Today