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Over 40% of central Tokyo bars open beyond 8 p.m. in defiance of gov't calls: survey

A street in Shinjuku's Kabukicho district is seen bustling with people even after 8 p.m., in this photo taken in Tokyo on Aug. 11, 2021. (Mainichi/Kota Yoshida)

TOKYO -- More than 40% of bars in downtown Tokyo's entertainment quarters remained open even after 8 p.m. in defiance of the metropolitan government's request for them to shorten their hours under the coronavirus state of emergency, with most of them apparently serving alcohol, a Mainichi Shimbun survey has found.

    The visual survey, conducted from Aug. 2 to 5, covered a total of 500 izakaya and other bars not affiliated with major chains near Shinjuku, Shibuya, Ikebukuro, Ueno and Kanda stations between 8 p.m. and 11 p.m.

    Following the declaration of the fourth state of emergency for Tokyo on July 12, establishments have been requested to stop serving alcohol and close by 8 p.m. This means that shorter business-hour requests for central Tokyo eateries have been in place without pause since late November last year, and they have been unable to open for normal hours for a single day this year.

    The survey, which targeted 100 establishments per day at each of the five locations, found that 212 of the 500 businesses -- or more than 40% -- were operating beyond 8 p.m. The surveyors did not interview bar operators or staff, but most of the 212 establishments were observed serving alcohol.

    By location, Shinjuku topped the list of bars remaining open after 8 p.m., with 58 establishments, followed by Ueno with 52, Shibuya with 36, Ikebukuro with 35 and Kanda with 31. Ueno was surveyed on Aug. 2, Shinjuku and Ikebukuro on Aug. 3, and Shibuya and Kanda on Aug. 5. During the survey, busy streets near train stations were lined by bars operating late into the night, with laughter and conversation being heard even outside in some areas.

    Their deteriorating financial condition appears to be behind the bars' rule-breaking. With the shortened business hour requests lasting far longer than expected, many bar operators are finding it impossible to get through the crisis with just the subsidies granted to cooperating establishments.

    An izakaya proprietor in Shinjuku complained, "Rent and personnel costs are high in downtown Tokyo's entertainment districts, so there's no way I can cover them with the cooperation money."

    An izakaya near Shibuya Station resumed late-night operations in mid-July, after its operator learned that economic revitalization minister Yasutoshi Nishimura had asked financial institutions and liquor distributors to pressure their client restaurants and bars to stop selling alcohol when the current state of emergency was issued. The minister later retracted the idea. "There's no need to follow requests that show no understanding for the feelings of people on the ground," the operator fumed.

    Meanwhile, self-restraint fatigue has also apparently played a part in bars being crowded with customers deep into the night.

    A 21-year-old male college student from Wako, Saitama Prefecture, told the Mainichi Shimbun at an izakaya near Ikebukuro Station, "Is going out for a drink that wrong?"

    In visual checks conducted between July 12 and Aug. 5, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government reportedly found that 96% of some 120,000 eateries in the capital had complied with requests to close by 8 p.m.

    "As there are many establishments that are open deep into the night in entertainment quarters, if you inspect only those areas, the ratio of businesses that stay open late at night becomes larger. If you look at Tokyo as a whole, then you can see many eateries are cooperating continuously," a metropolitan official said.

    Since Aug. 3, metropolitan government officials have been visiting noncompliant eateries to ask them to follow the shortened hour requests.

    Kei Hirai, associate professor of health psychology at Osaka University graduate school, commented, "The central and local governments have urged people to take infection prevention measures by appealing to their anxiety, but the effects of this method have waned as time has passed. As there is no prospect of coronavirus infections being brought under control anytime soon, it is inevitable that an increasing number of bar operators will prioritize their own finances over public health. There are limits to infection prevention measures focusing solely on restrictions on bars and restaurants."

    (Japanese original by Shotaro Kinoshita and Shintaro Iguchi, Tokyo City News Department)

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