Japan

‘Why always restaurants?’ Mixed reaction to new Tokyo gov’t call to cut business hours

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mainich– In response to the surge once again of coronavirus cases in the Japanese capital, Gov. Yuriko Koike on Nov. 25 issued another request to eateries here to shorten their business hours.

While some restaurant proprietors lamented that they were being forced to make sacrifices again, or that they could no longer tolerate such measures, others racked their brains over whether or not they should follow the governor’s request.

On the evening of Nov. 25 at the restaurant Shimbashi Yukun Sakagura, staff were disinfecting acrylic shields and tables.

The 76-year-old proprietor, Yoko Matsunaga, said of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s request, “If we don’t follow it, we will be given looks of disapproval. Considering the public sentiment, I have no choice but to abide.”

However, that does not mean Matsunaga does not feel discontent. Because she has taken careful virus prevention precautions, she wonders, “Why is it always restaurants that are made the subject of these restrictions?” As for the 10 p.m. closing time requested of eating and drinking establishments, she questions how much effect that really has. “Are authorities just trying to give off the image that they’re taking effective measures?” she asks.

The 62-year-old male manager of a “standing” bar nearby said, “If small establishments like us can get 20,000 yen (for every day that we follow the restrictions), we’re happy to comply.” The number of customers has dropped down to one-third the number of pre-pandemic days. “Our regulars are all working remotely and don’t go to their offices. I don’t think Shimbashi will ever return to the way it was,” he said.

Meanwhile, the male manager of a host club in Kabukicho, an entertainment district in Shinjuku Ward, revealed that he was still “mulling over” what to do.

Even if the club were to accept the 400,000-yen (approx. $3,800) financial support from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, since the hosts earn a lot on commission, the club’s income will drop if business hours are cut back. December is usually a big month in which events related to Christmas bring in a lot of business. “I’ll make a decision based on trends in the industry,” the manager said.

Major chain stores are also being forced to make decisions.

Skylark Holdings Co., which is a giant operator of family restaurants such as Gusto, based in the Tokyo suburban city of Musashino, is planning on following the request for shortened business hours at their restaurants in the capital.

Ever since the coronavirus spread across the country, the company has tried to overhaul its corporate plans with the assumption that daytime demand for things that can be enjoyed at home would increase. It already got rid of late-night service in July as a general rule, and a PR representative for the company said that they didn’t expect much confusion with the implementation of shorter business hours.

Kushikatsu Tanaka, based in Tokyo’s Shinagawa Ward, meanwhile, did not cut back on its business hours at its directly managed branches when the metropolitan government requested that restaurants and other similar establishments shorten their hours in August. There have been confirmed COVID-19 cases among their employees, but the company has emphasized that it has taken very thorough precautions. A company representative said, “Since the number of infected people has been rising, we’re not surprised with the (Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s) request for shorter business hours. We will be deliberating how to respond.”

(Japanese original by Tomokazu Komaki, Tokyo Regional News Department; Shinji Kurokawa, City News Department; and Yongho Lee, Machida Resident Bureau)