TOKYO (JAPAN) – For many in Tokyo restaurants that flout the strict lockdown restrictions are a relief. Yuuki Hamazono was happy to find bars and restaurants in Tokyo open after 8 pm, despite government request.
The 30-year-old financial trader was one of many people out in the Shimbashi nightlife district during the first weekend of an expanded state of emergency, declared by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.
The state of emergency was declared for Tokyo and surrounding prefectures this month. Suga expanded it to 11 prefectures accounting for 55% of the population on Wednesday. Unlike in many other countries with mandatory lockdowns, Japanese authorities legally can only urge people to stay at home and businesses to close.
While compliance has been high – most of Shimbashi’s karaoke bars and izakaya taverns were closed on Friday night – more people appear to be ignoring the state of emergency this time than one last year.
“There are people who can’t have dinner until after 8 p.m., including me,” Hamazono said, citing his working hours. He and a friend were looking for a place to duck into among a jumble of izakayas on Shimbashi’s narrow streets.
Since most drinking spots are cramped and has poor ventilation, authorities have worried about the potential spread of infection at bars and restaurants.
The government has offered subsidies to establishments that close on time, but some say it’s not enough, and worry about losing customers.
“Though there are subsidies, for restaurants and bars the relations of trust are important,” said Yuji Tobe, a 34-year-old barman in a standing-only drinking spot, where wooden tabletops rest on stacks of plastic crates.
“We have a bond with our customers.”
Tobe’s bar was nominally closed, although two regulars were still being served.
Suga has been accused of being slow to act out of fear of damaging the economy due to which his support has been plunging.
“It’s unclear whether getting the economy going or stopping corona comes first,” said a man who gave his name only as Kazumasa. He was queuing for one the restaurants under the train tracks serving yakitori, skewers of grilled chicken.
The government is considering an amendment to give authorities more power to enforce a lockdown, said Taro Kono, Minister in charge of administrative and regulatory reform.
Until then, it seems likely that many will keep drinking.