Fitness craze gripping Japan? No, just a better economy

TOKYO (Bloomberg) - Gym memberships are up. Is a mini fitness craze starting to grip Japan? Or is it more about the economy than the waistline?

The Japanese are splurging on fitness clubs, with revenue including membership fees jumping in January by the most since Shinzo Abe became prime minister. Dropping money on fitness club fees rather than going to the public gym is a luxury for some families. To Yasunari Ueno, an economist at Mizuho Securities who tracks spending on leisure pursuits, this a telling sign that more Japanese consumers are coming out of their shells after the government hiked the sales tax last April.

That's not to say anybody should expect consumer spending to start powering the economy any time soon. Take, for example, the pocket of weakness in one of the favorite pastimes of many Japanese: Pachinko That's 10 straight months of declining revenue for Pachinko parlors, where people wager their luck and little skill playing the uniquely Japanese game that blends elements of pinball and slot machines.

If the Cabinet Office's Economy Watchers survey is any guide, Ueno is right to look past people's efforts to get back in shape. There haven't been so many people upbeat on the economic outlook faced by households for nine months.

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