March 12, 2009 / 5:29 AM / 10 years ago

Japanese find sweet indulgences amid recession

TOKYO (Reuters Life!) - Recession-hit Japanese consumers may be going without the designer clothing and gadgets they normally indulge in, but the downturn has not dulled the nation’s sweet tooth.

A model displays a joint creation by Japanese fashion designer Tsumori Chisato and pastry chefs at the Tokyo Sweets Collection in Tokyo March 12, 2009. Outfits using sweets, such as cookies, chocolates and candies, was displayed as part of an event named "Suite Sweets Japan". REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao

Candies are a national obsession, with expensive Swiss roll cakes, rusks and $10-a-piece chocolates considered little luxuries that are too hard to give up for most people.

“Instead of going to cafes or dining out, people are spending more time at home,” said Takashi Iida, who manages the sweets section at Matsuya department store in Tokyo’s upscale Ginza shopping district.

“Sweets are one way of making time at home more enjoyable.”

Consumer spending on most items has plummeted as Japanese grapple with their worst recession since World War Two.

Department store data shows sales of women’s clothing declined for the 19th straight month in January and overall sales fell for 11 months running.

But sales of sweets have risen for 25 months in a row.

Kayoko Shibata, spokeswoman at Mitsukoshi department store in Ginza, said shoppers often line up for 30 minutes to buy a 1,200 yen ($12) Swiss roll.

“There is a line all the time, even on weekdays,” she said. “Almost everyday, the shop runs out of stock in late afternoon,” she added.

At Gateau Festa Harada, one of the most popular sweets shops in Matsuya, 42-year-old homemaker Masayo Horita lined up to buy five bags of rusks, after also checking out the sweet section of a rival department store.

“These are for my friends as well as my family,” she said.

But asked when the last time she bought clothes at a department store was, Horita thought for a while and said: “Maybe two years ago? I don’t remember.”

Editing by Miral Fahmy

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