Photo/Illutration Canned beer and other alcoholic beverages are consumed in a park near JR Shinbashi Station in Tokyo’s Minato Ward on Feb. 1. (Yuji Masuyama)

People in need of a few drinks in Tokyo’s Shinbashi district have found venues that are unaffected by government requests for shortened business hours under the now-prolonged state of emergency.

Like clockwork, streams of workers, students and others looking to ease their stress head to public parks in the area after 8 p.m., when bars and restaurants are supposed to close to prevent the spread of novel coronavirus infections.

The Shinbashi district, filled with countless bars and restaurants, is known as a nightlife heaven for salarymen. But the doors have shut and the lights turned off at many of these places at 8 p.m. since the COVID-19 state of emergency was declared for Tokyo and three surrounding prefectures on Jan. 7.

After that hour on Feb. 1, one small park surrounded by office buildings not far from JR Shinbashi Station turned into a comfortable drinking place for 20 or so.

One group of drinkers, still wearing their winter coats, chatted and laughed over canned beer and bottled wine.

Young adults occupied a slide in the park to discuss their love lives, while a lonely-looking man drank on a bench by himself.

A security guard at the park said the number of drinkers increases to around 80 on Friday nights.

Such scenes are expected to continue under the extended state of emergency.

“I’m about to graduate from university soon, but I don’t have a place where I can talk about memories with my friends,” said one imbiber in a group of four students who want the government to ease restrictions on bars and restaurants, if possible.

They were all university students who became acquainted through a school activity club. They stood in a circle near the slide, drinking beer and white wine.

Learning that the state of emergency would continue for one more month to March 7 in 10 prefectures, including Tokyo, the group member said, “I expected it, but still it’s sad.”

The member said the pandemic has taken a serious toll on student life. The club will not resume its activities anytime soon and a scheduled graduation trip would have to be canceled.

The students started the party at 6 p.m. at a nearby wine bar to celebrate a member’s birthday, but the place closed at 8 p.m. on the metropolitan government’s request.

“We haven’t drunk enough, have we?” one of them said as they left the bar. They then went to the park, and additional refreshments were bought at a convenience store.

When asked if the park party could spread the novel coronavirus, they noted that they were wearing masks when talking.

“We’re outside, so ventilation is no problem,” a 22-year-old male student said. “Cut us some slack on things like this, will you?”


Two men in their 40s who work at a real estate company in Tokyo’s Minato Ward were drinking canned beer on a bench in the Shinbashi park.

They said they started drinking at a yakitori restaurant at around 6:30 p.m. after work. But last call came immediately. They hastily gulped their beers, which left them unfulfilled.

“It upset our digestive systems, so we came here for an after-party,” one of the men joked.

They also said drinking is a serious business matter and essential for co-workers to exchange information, particularly now, ahead of the busy moving season for the real estate business.

“Closing at 8 p.m. is really tough for company employees,” one of the drinkers said. “Sometimes, hobnobbing makes things go along more swimmingly. That’s why we are here tonight, drinking.”

He said the extension of the state of emergency will further stress him out.

“It’s really tough that I can’t stay for drinking at (bars and restaurants),” he lamented. “But I hear that front-line medical workers are having a hard time, too, even though the number of infections has decreased. So I have no choice.”