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Foot traffic in Tokyo's government district dropped only on day it was surveyed

The Kasumigaseki bureaucratic district is seen in the foreground, with the National Diet building in the left of the background, in this photo taken from a Mainichi Shimbun helicopter in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward. (Mainichi/Yuki Miyatake)

TOKYO -- While the Japanese government has been calling on private firms to promote teleworking and reduce office commutes by 70% to curb coronavirus infections, it has emerged that the number of people coming to work in Tokyo's Kasumigaseki bureaucratic district fell only on the day when foot traffic was surveyed.

    "The volume of foot traffic around Kasumigaseki went down significantly only on May 19, and rose again the following day," an opposition party lawmaker asserted during a June 3 meeting of the House of Councillors Committee on the Cabinet, based on data provided by major mobile carrier NTT Docomo Inc.

    A May 19 government fact-finding survey on remote work practices among bureaucrats went ahead after ministry and agency employees were notified in advance of the date. Lawmaker Shun Otokita of the Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party) raised the issue during the panel meeting, and criticized the survey for apparently not reflecting the state of affairs by saying, "It serves no purpose at all."

    The survey conducted by the Cabinet Bureau of Personnel Affairs targeted some 240,000 staff working at government ministries and agencies in areas under the COVID-19 state of emergency and elsewhere. It aimed to understand how far remote working has spread among national public servants. The bureau made May 19 its survey "base date," and informed ministries and agencies of it beforehand.

    According to NTT Docomo's analysis of smartphone location data and other information, foot traffic in the Kasumigaseki district -- where many ministries and agencies are based -- dropped on May 19 by 15.4% below the previous day. It was also down 40.2% compared to January and February 2020, before the coronavirus began spreading in Japan.

    But on May 20, the figure rose 19.3% from the day before, marking just a 28.6% decline compared to before the spread of the virus. The results show the area's foot traffic rebounded the day after the survey.

    Individuals familiar with the situation said that at one ministry, employees were told the day before the survey to "at least telework tomorrow."

    In response to opposition backlash, administrative reform minister Taro Kono told the upper house panel session: "They (ministries and agencies) have been able to do at least this much teleworking, so I'd like them to raise the level from here on. We will conduct surprise investigations in future."

    (Japanese original by Kazuhiko Hori, Political News Department)

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