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Tokyo bustling with people at night despite COVID-19 'quasi-emergency measures'

People are seen eating and drinking in a park near Shimbashi Station in Tokyo's Minato Ward past 8 p.m. on April 12, 2021, the day that coronavirus "quasi-emergency measures" took effect in the capital. (Photo partially modified) (Mainichi/Yuki Miyatake)

TOKYO -- Although eateries in Tokyo are subject to requests to close early under the Japanese government's coronavirus "quasi-emergency measures" that took effect on April 12, crowds of people were seen in several areas across the capital on the night of the same day.

    Quasi-emergency measures went into effect on April 12 for Tokyo's 23 wards and six suburban cities. As restaurants are requested to shorten their business hours and close at 8 p.m. under the stricter rules, nightlife districts were expected to be quiet. However, reporters found a large number of people who seemingly could not suppress their urge to go out on the first day the measures went into effect.

    Just past 6 p.m. at Shimbashi, an area in the capital's Minato Ward known to be frequented by corporate salarymen after work, eatery staff tasked with bringing in customers were seen walking around an intersection of the entertainment district, ignoring a group of individuals in suits who were silently heading toward the station. At the front of dining establishments hung hastily made signs to inform passersby that they would be closing an hour earlier than before.

    At Japanese-style izakaya bar Miyabi, a male customer murmured, "You won't make it in time unless you enter at this time, right?" The man, who claimed to be an office worker in his 50s, refused to disclose his name out of concern that he would be viewed as bar-hopping.

    Store manager Masaaki Kitanosono, 72, heaved a deep sigh. The establishment originally closed at 11 p.m., but as he obeyed the government's requests to close early, its earnings fell to around 20% of what it used to be. Only six customers had come in during the three hours from 5 p.m. In spite of the subsidies distributed to cooperating eateries, Kitanosono has still been struggling to keep the business afloat.

    At 8 p.m., 80% of red lanterns in front of stores seemed to have their lights turned off at a brief glance. A group of around 20 men were causing a racket at an izakaya bar that remained open. "There's no end to it if we follow all of the government's requests," an employee said defiantly. He apparently intended to hang the "getting ready" sign and close the door if authorities came to patrol the area.

    People had also gathered in a park surrounded by buildings. There appeared to be at least 30 people, chatting away with beer cans in hand. A group of three who said they worked at a financial institution stuffed themselves with grilled chicken skewers. They said that by the time they thought of holding a secret farewell party since they were being transferred to different posts, it was already past 7 p.m., which was the latest time that alcohol can be ordered at a restaurant. A 30-year-old man said, "We chose an outdoor park to avoid infections. Please allow us to do just this much."

    Meanwhile, in the city of Machida, a commuter town in suburban Tokyo, Akira Koyano, 54, president of izakaya Ondori Yamatoyokocho, revealed that he had not yet been able to "sort out his thoughts" about the bar closing one hour earlier as calls for shorter business hours were reinforced. Kanagawa Prefecture, south of Tokyo, where coronavirus quasi-emergency measures are not in place, is only one train stop away from Machida. "Why are suburban areas subject to the same request to shorten business hours as areas in central Tokyo? Customers will flow into Kanagawa eateries," said Koyano.

    In Shibuya, a district usually packed with young people, many stores closed their shutters at 8 p.m. However, signs reading "open after 9 p.m." were seen here and there in the entertainment district. Several men and women disappeared into an establishment after saying, "Infections have spread so it's the same even if eateries close early or not."

    The area's landmark Shibuya Scramble Crossing was almost empty following the first state of emergency declared one year ago. However, the decrease in the number of people out in Shibuya following the recent measures has been sluggish. Agoop Corp., a subsidiary of major communications firm Softbank Corp., estimated that the number of people out around Shibuya Station from 8 to 9 p.m. on April 12 increased by 40% compared to April 7 last year -- the first day under the state of emergency declaration. This was a 20% increase compared to Jan. 8, when the second state of emergency was declared.

    Yuko Takashima, 36, an employee at a sweet chestnut shop near the crossing, muttered quietly, "I guess everybody got used to this current state."

    (Japanese original by Shintaro Iguchi, Tokyo City News Department, Yongho Lee, Machida Resident Bureau and Shotaro Kinoshita, Tokyo City News Department)

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