Tue, Jul 27, 2004 - Page 16 News List

To be rich is still glorious for Japanese

A new company in Japan seeks to provide the best that money can buy

DPA , Tokyo

The best that money can be buy is yours, at a price, in Japan.

PHOTO: DPA

Want to play golf with Tiger Woods? Celebrate your birthday with Ben Affleck? If you are rich in Japan, these and other extravaganzas can be yours.

While the economy in Japan is still weak despite a series of rosy economic figures from the government, the number of big spenders has been rising and new businesses are catering to their expensive tastes.

Tokyo-based Club Concierge fulfils any customers' wish, including arranging a meeting with world celebrities. To become a member of the club you'll either have to have assets worth more than ?100 million (US$910,000), or earn an annual income over ?10 million.

Since starting up in October, the company has attracted more than 700 members.

Club Concierge president Naoyuki Miyayama said despite the economic turmoil the country has experienced since the early 1990s, Japanese over the age of 50 still have estimated combined savings of roughly US$12.7 trillion.

"They have money," the president says, "but there has been no place to offer them services or products to spend it on."

Miyayama said one of the most popular orders is sending a chef from Tokyo's renowned Q-bei Sushi restaurant -- famous for hosting successive prime ministers and Sony's co-founder Akio Morita - -- to a customer's home to make sushi. The cost? Nearly US$1,700.

Club Concierge customer Kazuko Hiramoto said she spent over US$1,800 in April for the club to organize a dinner at a Geisha house, known as Ochaya, in Kyoto's famed Gion district.

During the dinner, Geisha girls entertained guests by singing, playing instruments, and performing ancient Japanese dances while pouring sake for Hiramoto and her four male companions.

The 58-year-old company owner said she spent the money because "it's not easy for women going to Ochaya as the Geisha houses are, in general, only for male celebrities."

"I don't mind spending big money for something I feel is worth while because I feel it is a reward for myself and for my hard work," said Hiramoto.

Seiji Katsurahata, an economist at Dai-Ichi Life Research Institute, said despite the fact that the number of rich people has been decreasing in Japan, the number of big spenders has been rising.

According to government statistics, the number of high taxpayers whose income taxes topped ?10 million (US$90,900) was 73,900 last year, falling for the third straight year. The number was 128,000 in 1993.

The economist said high income earners are not the only people who are big spenders.

"In addition to older Japanese people changing their custom from saving to spending, there are other groups of big spenders that have emerged on the scene, such as young entrepreneurs and investors who have made profits through Internet stock trading," he said.

"Internet stock trading investors are mainly young people in their 20s and 30s who play the markets on the side. They tend to spend immediately after earning profits," the economist said.

In response to the growing number of big spenders in Japan, American Express introduced the ebony-colored Centurion credit card, known as the "Black Card," two years ago in the Japanese market.

Despite its eye-popping US$1,450 annual fee, it has become a much desired item for status-conscious Japanese who demand special services, such as private shopping at certain boutiques after they close and going to hard-to-get-reservation restaurants and hotels anytime they want.

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