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Central Japan bustles with tourists on 3-day weekend despite virus 3rd wave fears

Oharai machi near Ise Jingu shrine, in Ise, Mie Prefecture, is seen bustling with tourists and visitors on Nov. 21, 2020. (Mainichi/Go Taniguchi)

Despite a third wave of coronavirus infections underway across Japan, Nov. 21 saw the start of an autumn three-day weekend blessed with clear blue skies, and crowds thronging at tourist spots in the prefectures of Aichi, Gifu and Mie in the Tokai region in the central part of the country.

    On the same day, the national government announced it would be reviewing parts of the Go To Travel and Eat subsidy schemes implemented to boost demand in the tourism and dining industries. But even though holidaymakers and businesspeople alike are concerned by a rise in infections, it appears the momentum brought back by the Go To campaigns is unlikely to stall, and all parties took efforts to prevent the virus from spreading while also enjoying the holiday period.

    At the Ise Jingu shrine complex in the city of Ise, Mie Prefecture, masked worshippers came out in droves. In the parking lot, cars with license plates from locations outside the prefecture including Kobe, Osaka and Yamaguchi in western Japan were well represented, and Oharai machi, the souvenir shopping street at the complex, saw lines of customers outside its eateries.

    A proprietress at Japanese confectionary store Isuzuchaya Honten expressed her relief to the Mainichi Shimbun, saying, "We were worried about how many customers we'd get through the door because infections are rising, but it's no different to any other holiday." She said she was "deeply thankful" for the Go To Travel campaign, which has helped fuel growing customer numbers since September.

    Nagoya is seen bustling with tourists, with the Nagoya TV Tower in the background, in the city's Naka Ward on Nov. 21, 2020. (Mainichi/Masashi Taguchi)

    But there are many shoppers coming from areas like Tokyo and Osaka, where infections are spiking. She said the shop was working flat out to ensure it balances the business side with virus prevention measures. "All we can do is welcome people while doing as much as we can in infection prevention, such as full disinfections and limiting seating," she said.

    A self-employed man aged 35 from Gamagori, Aichi Prefecture, came to the area with his family using discounts from the Go To Travel program. "I was worried, but if we canceled we would have had to pay the whole fee, so we didn't change our plans. I'm concerned by the rise in infections, but I'm scared more of the economy being stopped again," he said.

    The autumn leaves were at their finest in Gifu Park, in the city and prefecture of the same name, and many people had come to enjoy a stroll. A part-time worker visiting from Kiyosu, Aichi Prefecture, told the Mainichi that while she is avoiding eating out or going to movie theaters, she has allowed herself to do things if they're outside. In that vein, she signed up for a "walking rally," in which people come together to go around various checkpoints before reaching the goal.

    Regarding the government's plans to review its Go To campaigns, she said, "We bought Go To Eat coupons, but it seems it would be better if we use them up sooner rather than later." Her husband, an employee at a beer company, said, "I want us to avoid a situation like in April and May when there were calls for business closures."

    Although history fans were drawn to the park's Awaiting Kirin Gifu Taiga Drama Museum at Gifu Park, which introduces visitors to the world of public broadcaster NHK's 2020 historical drama series, event security staff at the parking lot said, "Attendance has been unexpectedly low. Perhaps it'll increase in the middle of the three-day weekend."

    At the Nagoya TV Tower and Hisaya-odori Park in Nagoya's popular Sakae neighborhood, crowds of visitors and locals were out in force. Large-scale repairs of the TV tower were recently completed, and the landmark reopened for business in September. Along with the retail spaces lined up in the park, it has been transformed into a new tourist spot. The TV tower's operating company is taking measures including limiting capacity on its elevators and regularly disinfecting facilities. A representative said, "All we can do is continue maintaining safety as much as possible."

    A homemaker from Nagoya's Chikusa Ward visiting with her family told the Mainichi, "I was scared because there are more people here than I had expected. Although it's important to balance infection prevention with the economy, everyone has gotten used to infections spreading. I think it'd better if there was a little more done to promote caution."

    (Japanese original by Go Taniguchi, Tsu Bureau, Yoji Hanaoka, Gifu Bureau, and Masashi Taguchi, Nagoya News Center)

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