Photo/Illutration Customers enjoy open-air dining at tables set up outside restaurants and bars in Saga on May 22. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Some quintessentially Parisian cafes offer outdoor seating at their many tables laid out on the sidewalk.

I once saw an establishment where all its outdoor tables were taken, but there were hardly any patrons inside.

I can totally relate to the pleasure of watching the Parisian street scenery while sipping a glass of wine at an outdoor table, even when the weather is a little too warm or too cool for comfort.

French literature scholar Shigeru Kashima notes in his book "Pari: Seikimatsu Panorama-kan" (Paris: The fin de siecle panorama pavilion) that pavement cafes were already flourishing in Paris in the 19th century. Competition among operators was severe, and some even set up open-air stages where singers were invited to perform.

Such "music cafes" grew in popularity, according to Kashima, and practically all establishments lining the Avenue des Champs-Elysees eventually followed suit.

I feel merry just imagining the singers' voices echoing in the neighborhood.

Japan, unfortunately, does not have too many places for open-air dining.

But that is precisely why an incipient "social experiment" in Saga Prefecture grabbed my attention.

According to the local edition of The Asahi Shimbun, the prefectural government came up with the idea of allowing businesses to set up sidewalk tables for outdoor service.

Twelve wine bars and "izakaya" Japanese-style pubs in a shopping street in the city of Saga are participating in this experiment, which is to continue for 16 days but will take place only in the evening.

The prefectural government took care of all necessary legal procedures, including the issuance of permits for conducting business on public streets.

In terms of ensuring sufficient ventilation, this is perfect. And it certainly solves the dilemma of drinkers who miss going out but know better than to risk sitting in a crowded, closed-in venue.

What should our post-COVID "new normal" look like for eating out? We are still groping for answers.

How about nurturing our own "sidewalk pub culture" while making sure not to inconvenience pedestrians and people in wheelchairs?

And I won't forget that chilled sake is best when the weather is warm, and warm sake when it's cold.

--The Asahi Shimbun, May 30

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.