TOKYO: Yusuke Aoi has seen earnings at his traditional Tokyo bar plunge since the coronavirus pandemic began last year, and fears the area’s second state of emergency could deliver a final blow.
Japan declared a month-long, limited state of emergency in the capital, Tokyo, and three neighbouring prefectures on Thursday (Jan 8) to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
READ: Japan PM Suga declares COVID-19 state of emergency in Tokyo area
The curbs are less stringent than during last year’s emergency period, where people were largely confined to their homes. This time people are asked to stay at home after 8pm unless they have essential reasons to leave.
As last time, restaurants and bars are asked to close by 8pm and stop serving alcohol an hour earlier, with government subsidies available to those which abide by the requests.
READ: Tokyo starts first day under COVID-19 state of emergency
But with losses already built up and footfall down as people work from home, owners of Japan’s traditional izakaya, which serve lots of small eats along with alcohol, are being forced into crushing choices.
“Customers usually start flocking in around 7,” the 29-year-old manager of Setouchi Lemon Shokudo said. “If we can only serve alcohol until 7, there’s no point in staying open in the evening.”
Aoi’s izakaya has seen sales slump 70 per cent since the pandemic as more people worked from home and avoided crowded spaces. They have now started serving lunches, but still can’t make ends meet.
Operating with shortened evening hours would bleed him of as much as 1 million yen a month in labour and utilities, he estimates. “The damage is less if we close.”
The areas affected by the current state of emergency – Tokyo and the three neighbouring prefectures of Chiba, Kanagawa and Saitama – are home to about 150,000 restaurants and bars.
Tokyo-based Teikoku Databank said this week bankruptcies in the sector hit a high of 780 in 2020, up from the previous record of 732, and many izakaya owners fear the worst.
Yasuyuki Shimahara, who owns a central Tokyo izakaya specializing in fresh tuna, will close until the state of emergency ends. Though he has applied for government subsidies, he expects losses to run to around US$20,000 (¥2 million) for the month.
“As a business owner, it’s not what I want, but I think we have no choice due to the situation the country’s in,” he said.
Japan has been less seriously hit by the pandemic than many places, but has been unable to rein in the virus. Recorded daily infections exceeded 7,000 for the first time on Thursday, and it has seen a total of 267,000 cases and nearly 3,900 deaths.
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