''Help Tohoku and have a good time'' could be the motto of a number of Tokyo eateries that are providing opportunities for diners to support the reconstruction of areas ravaged by last March's earthquake and tsunami by serving up food and drink from the region.
A Japanese-style pub in Ginza that formerly specialized in dishes of northeastern Akita Prefecture reopened in January as a nonprofit ''izakaya'' featuring the tastes of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures, which were hit hard by the disaster.
An Italian restaurant that opened in late December in the Jimbocho area serves dishes featuring chicken and vegetables from a farm in Fukushima and seafood landed in Ishinomaki in Miyagi, supporting local producers hurt by the damage to their product's image as a result of the Fukushima nuclear crisis, which was triggered by the natural disaster.
The Ginza establishment goes by the name of ''Reconstruction Support Tavern'' and is the second of its kind after one that opened in Sendai, Miyagi prefecture, last September. It aims to donate all profits, amounting to over 1 million yen a month, to the prefectural governments of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima through late September this year, according to store manager Masahide Tateoka.
In the restaurant resembling an old Japanese folk house, a group of three women who gathered one night in mid-February were thrilled with locally brewed sake from the three prefectures, indoor decorations such as bamboo branches carrying wishes for post-disaster recovery written on strips of colorful paper and music of traditional festivals in the Tohoku area.
The bamboo branches are featured in the annual Tanabata star festival in Sendai.
The female customers in their 40s, who are colleagues at a nearby company, said they came to the pub to be of help to disaster victims while enjoying themselves at the same time.
''We like drinking sake from the Tohoku area and often travel to hot spring resorts in the northeast. We want to contribute to the recovery efforts while having fun,'' said one of the three women, who declined to be named.
A group of four men in their 60s, who were former colleagues and had frequented the pub's predecessor serving Akita dishes, also said they wanted to come to the remodeled tavern all the more because it is now dedicated to supporting reconstruction work.
Tateoka said the idea of running nonprofit pubs came from Masahiko Murakami, president of Akita-based izakaya operator Dreamlink Co., who as a native of Akita is enthusiastic about helping fellow Tohoku folk.
Groups of Tokyo residents originally from the northeastern Japan region as well as those who have worked as volunteers in the disaster-hit area have flocked to the pub in Ginza, where many employees are from the Tohoku prefectures, according to the store manager.
''We are proud to present a lineup of local sake from 96 breweries in the three prefectures. We've also invented unique dishes such as pizza and pasta using ingredients from Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima,'' Tateoka said.
The Italian restaurant ''Fujimizaka'' run by Willplanning Inc. does not go out of its way to inform customers of its policy of using ingredients from producers in the Tohoku region. Instead, Takeshi Yokokawa, president of the operating company, said he hopes to encourage other restaurant operators to follow suit.
''Unlike large restaurant-chain operators that buy ingredients through wholesalers, small restaurants like us maintain a face-to-face relationship with individual food producers,'' Yokokawa said.
''I felt that, in our own way, we could help out farmers suffering the effects of consumer fears over radiation. This is a different approach from big firms, which don't have such close ties with producers,'' he said.
The newly opened restaurant also recruited a 61-year-old chef from Chiba Prefecture, whose house was damaged and who lost his job in the March disaster.
For help in establishing the new restaurant, Yokokawa turned to a group of food companies that was formed in June last year to promote farm and fisheries produce from the disaster-hit areas.
The group, Eat and Energize the East, which has 35 member firms including online organic food sales company Oisix Inc., mayonnaise maker Kewpie Corp. and Kirin Brewery Co., offers services to match the food producers with sales outlets including restaurants, distributors and retailers by creating a database of farmers and fisheries.
The entity also advises food producers on how to take additional steps to verify the safety of their product, on top of the state's radiation tests on food samples. Yokokawa said the safety of ingredients purchased by the Italian restaurant from Fukushima and Ishinomaki has been guaranteed by these additional steps.
Eat and Energize the East said it aims to generate 20 billion yen in economic benefits over five years through its matching and consulting services to expand the sales channels of food producers affected by the calamity.
The first Valentine's Day after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami may look somewhat different from ordinary years in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, which was hit hard by the disaster.
Chocolates with locally produced sake or honey are gaining popularity and candies with a message of gratitude are also available at the Fujisaki department store in the city.
A sales promotion staff at the department store said, ''It is probably because products using food from disaster-hit areas are supported by consumers.''
Fujisaki offers different kinds of chocolate using food from the prefecture in order to support areas hit by the quake.
One chocolate is made with six different types of Japanese sake brewed in the prefecture. Coffee beans roasted in the city of Ishinomaki, also in Miyagi, are covered with chocolate. Hexagonal chocolate, in the shape of honey comb and made with honey produced in Sendai, has also hit the shelves.
All of these products are being offered for the first time for Valentine's Day and are selling well, according to the store.
As people grew to value kizuna -- a Japanese word for ''bond'' -- between family and friends after the disaster, the store prepared candy sets with a message saying ''Thank you'' in five different languages, including Japanese and English, so that people can express their feelings of gratitude.
Another department store in Sendai operated by Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings Ltd. is also offering chocolate with part of the proceeds going to disaster-hit regions.
''Charity box'' is one such product. It sells for 2,400 yen, of which 1,000 yen will be donated through the Japanese Red Cross Society.
Kiyomi Hishinuma, 42, who bought chocolate at the store to present to her husband, spoke of the spirit behind many gifts this Valentine's Day, 11 months after last March's natural disasters.
''It was my husband that I could count on the most when the quake hit. I bought more expensive chocolate than usual as I am thankful for him.''
A Hawaiian-style spa leisure complex in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, known for its team of hula dancers, fully reopened Wednesday 11 months after the March disaster damaged the facility.
Spa Resort Hawaiians has renovated its key indoor dome facility, where the Hula Girls' stage and a big swimming pool are located, after newly installing three pillars to prevent the dome ceiling from falling.
Now with six rookie dancers who joined the troupe the month after the devastating earthquake, a total of 34 dancers of the hula team performed before some 1,500 people, including local children who were invited to the day's reopening event, on a stage 1.34 times bigger than the original with white artificial grass to resemble a sandy beach.
The resort complex, comprising a spa and pool theme park, restaurants and hotels, briefly offered shelter to people from nearby Hirono town who were obliged to evacuate their homes due to the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant in the wake of the disaster. It partially reopened in October.
A long line of people waited before the facility opened its doors.
At the front of the queue was Kazuyuki Komatsuzaki, a 46-year-old man from Ibaraki Prefecture.
''I started to wait at 9 o'clock last night. I came here to say thank you to the Hula Girls who toured the nation and made a lot people smile (following the disaster),'' Komatsuzaki said.
The dancers, featured in the 2006 movie ''Hula Girls,'' performed at more than 100 locations, including shelters for quake evacuees and stages across Japan.