Good Times, Bad Times
Japan this week officially slipped into its first recession in seven years, reporting two consecutive quarters of contraction, and it may take the world's second-largest economy two years to reverse the downslide, says a Reuters poll released yesterday.
Japan's economy is expected to shrink 0.5 percent in the current fiscal year and a 0.3 percent in fiscal 2009-10, according to the median forecast of 25 economists polled by Reuters earlier this week. In last month's survey, economists projected growth of 0.3 percent for fiscal 2008-09 and 1.1 percent in fiscal 2009-10.
Motoharu Kurata, general manager of Sushi-ei, a popular sushi and sashimi restaurant in Tokyo's fashionable Ginza district, is no stranger to tough economic times - the family-owned restaurant has been in business since 1848.
"It's been slow this year," Kurata told me last week as we dined at his restaurant. "The economy is real bad."
He said diners aren't necessarily spending less money per visit, they're just frequenting the restaurant less often. But Kurata, who caters to Tokyo's business crowd, is optimistic that restaurant traffic will pick up once the economy turns around.
When asked what he enjoys most about his job, despite rough economic times, Kurata said, "Making people happy, and we're still doing that."
For Japan, the silver lining is its economy may contract at a fraction of the rate of its counterparts - mainly the United States and the European Union - due to nearly 20 years of sub-par growth and an aversion to business and consumer debt, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. This has resulted in a leaner economy.
For restaurateurs like Kurata, that's good news in a year overrun with bad news.