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Restaurant factory: Staff at Tokyo sukiyaki spot making masks for the elderly

Employees at sukiyaki restaurant Ningyocho Imahan's main branch in Tokyo's Chuo Ward are seen making masks on April 17, 2020. (Mainichi/Takehiko Onishi)

TOKYO -- Employees at a long-established restaurant serving sukiyaki, a popular Japanese hot pot dish, are currently producing masks and distributing them to local elderly people, and plan to make 3,000 masks by the end of June.

In late March, when Ningyocho Imahan's main branch in Tokyo's Chuo Ward was running short of masks for floor staff amid the spread of the novel coronavirus, Ai Tanaka, in charge of the dining rooms, made 10 masks using bleached cotton cloth. The 53-year-old has experience in women's clothing design, and restaurant manager Fumihiko Mizutani, 50, was surprised by the quality of the masks. He asked her to crank up production.

At the end of March, Tanaka and others brought three sewing machines into one of the restaurant's dining rooms, which quickly turned into a mask factory. Employees gave up their free time to pitch in, followed a manual made by Tanaka to cut the cloth, sew and iron the masks, and then put the finished products into plastic bags.

Around April 10, 100 of the masks were distributed to elderly people through a neighborhood association. Employees plan to continue giving out masks to elementary schools and care facilities for the aged.

Mizutani said, "At first, they (the masks) were made for the employees here, but we hit upon the idea of giving them out to elderly people. We've shortened our operating hours and there are fewer customers, but we would like to contribute to society by making masks."

(Japanese original by Takehiko Onishi, Photo Group)

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