The economic slump offers unprecedented opportunities for new firms looking to carve out a niche in Japan, according to Kumi Sato, president of Cosmo Public Relations Corp., a Tokyo-based marketing consulting firm.

“When the economy is down, people are put on hold,” Sato said. “They have more time on their hands to read and fetch information. At the same time, there’s this extraordinary craving to know what’s safe, what’s different, which products are going to give them their money’s worth.”

People are becoming much more willing to spend more money on a product that they believe has extra value, she said. This need has boosted Sato’s own business.

Sato’s company specializes in branding products, from generic products such as beef and pork to specialized women’s health-care goods, including birth-control pills.

As president of the company, Sato has helped around 500 foreign companies enter the Japanese market over the past 17 years.

In the past two years, her client list — particularly those in the health-care sector — has grown 300 percent.

The product-branding process involves telling consumers what differentiates the product in question from the others on the shelf, she said.

“Right now, Japanese consumers are starved of information,” Sato said. “They want the truth.”

Despite the slump, consumer spending has been firmer than expected in recent months. Household consumption excluding rent grew an annualized 4.5 percent in the July-September period from the previous quarter, according to the Cabinet Office.

While few economists believe this is a sustainable trend, Sato said it is indicative of a new need among consumers.

Amid an uncertain future, the need for instant gratification through goods and services such as specialty coffee and aesthetic salon treatment is growing, she said.

“People are tired,” she said. “You turn on the news, and all you hear about is North Korea, Iraq and weapons of mass destruction, and about growing unemployment. People want something now.”

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