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Japan’s dept. stores struggle to balance food section operation, virus countermeasures


mainichi– Department stores in Japan are struggling to balance their food section operations and coronavirus countermeasures, as the country enters the Obon holiday amid the worst coronavirus infection spike seen to date.

Shigeru Omi, head of the Japanese government’s coronavirus countermeasures subcommittee, emphasized at an Aug. 12 news conference that to prevent transmissions, it is necessary for people to go to shopping malls and department stores less frequently, especially the basement food sections. Omi stated, “We want the flow of people to be strongly suppressed at department stores and on those stores’ basement floors.”

Department store customer numbers are plummeting due to the pandemic, and their basement food floors are an important draw during the crisis. Operators have competed to enhance these floors, but they also face a dilemma, as bringing together large numbers of people can easily lead to infection spread.

At Hanshin Department Store’s Umeda main branch in the city of Osaka, a total of 145 employees, most of whom were working at food sections on the first basement level and the ground floor, tested positive for the virus between July 26 and Aug. 8. At the Isetan Shinjuku Store in Tokyo, infections among 53 employees were confirmed during the week up to Aug. 12, among whom 20 were working at the food section on the basement floors. As the number of customers at department stores is expected to increase further during the Obon holidays, operators are in a hurry to strengthen anti-transmission measures.

Hankyu Department Store’s parent company H2O Retailing Corp. began restricting customers’ entry into the food section on the basement floor of the Umeda main store on Aug. 13. Starting on Aug. 14, Tobu Department Store Co. is posting employees at the entrances to its food floors, and will restrict entry when crowds are expected. Other department store operators including Sogo & Seibu Co., Daimaru Matsuzakaya Department Stores Co. and Takashimaya Co. intend to take similar measures.