Photo/Illutration An entrance to Tokyo’s Kabukicho district at 8:09 p.m. on April 18 (Toshiyuki Hayashi)

Drinking establishments and entertainment districts will likely be key targets of anti-virus measures to reduce foot traffic under the states of emergency sought by the governors of both Osaka and Tokyo.

Novel coronavirus infections have spread rapidly in the two urban centers, but the sense of alarm among local government leaders is not being felt by many customers and businesses in those areas.

They have gone through this before--twice--and are expressing growing weariness and now skepticism over the effects of anti-virus measures under another state of emergency.

Asahi Shimbun reporters went to the streets of Tokyo and Osaka on the evening of April 19 to gauge the atmosphere ahead of the expected states of emergency.

Osaka’s Minami District at 5 p.m.

The famed Dotonbori sightseeing spot was nowhere near as busy as it was before the pandemic, when foreign tourists packed the area. A sightseeing boat on Dotonbori River passed by, carrying only a few passengers. Before the pandemic, such boats would be filled.

In contrast, the Shinsaibashisuji shopping street, which extends north of the Ebisu bridge famous for an iconic Glico advertising signboard, was bustling with people coming and going.

A woman in her 20s, who lives in Osaka, was in the area for shopping with a co-worker.

“I don’t care,” she said. “Because I think when you get the coronavirus, you get the coronavirus.”

At 7 p.m., when eateries are supposed to stop serving alcoholic beverages under the pre-emergency measures, nearby neon signs were being turned off.

A 49-year-old male manager of an “izakaya” Japanese pub grumbled: “It is impossible to make money when we (have to stop serving alcohol) at 7 p.m. It is also tough to ask (customers) to wear a mask while dining.”

A nightlife district near Nanba in Osaka’s Chuo Ward at 7:31 p.m. on April 19 (Takaharu Yagi)

Osaka’s Minami District at 8 p.m.

Around the time bars and restaurants were supposed to close, groups of young people were hanging out on staircases and in parks a short distance away from the restaurant district. Some were not wearing masks and were drinking alcohol.

A 30-year-old company employee who lives in Osaka was drinking a can of beer in a park.

“There was a sense of tension when the state of emergency was issued a year ago. But now, there is not,” he said. “I think if (the government) issues another state of emergency, it will not work.”

He added, “If the Olympics are held under such circumstances, I think it will be a big failure.”

A number of young people were also congregating in an area where many hostess bars are located. Women were standing on the streets holding signboards that said, “All you can drink for 1,500 yen,” and trying to lure in customers.

Osaka’s Minami District at 10 p.m.

Even at this hour, people were entering “free information booths” to find sex-related adult entertainment businesses.

Touts were out and about asking inebriated people if they were looking for some action.

Tokyo’s Kabukicho District at 5 p.m.

Most of the bars and restaurants in an area extending from an arch that says Kabukicho Ichibangai were open. But there were only a few customers. Street solicitors appeared to be at a loss.

But there was still some activity.

A female company employee in her 20s left a karaoke parlor with two friends.

“I think it is OK because I wear a mask,” she said. They then went to a video game arcade.

Young people were also mingling in a square facing a movie theater, including a couple holding each other.

In a nearby back alley, a 28-year-old man removed his mask and raised a high-ball can with his younger co-worker.

“I know someone who rents a room for drinking parties,” he said. “Everybody is tired of exercising self-control.”

Takahiro Takuno, a 47-year-old owner of a flower shop in Kabukicho, said his business used to be open around the clock until last spring. But after the number of customers declined, he decided to close the shop at 7 p.m.

Takuno has already experienced two states of emergency and now pre-emergency measures to halt the spread of novel coronavirus infections. He said he feels that “the way the number of people decreases in the area has gradually slowed down.”

“I do not think the number of people will go down dramatically even if another state of emergency is issued,” he said.

Tokyo’s Kabukicho district at 8 p.m.

Neon signs started to go dark one by one, and more people headed toward train stations.

A 47-year-old female company employee who came to the area to drink with her co-worker suggested that the early closing hours were having the opposite effect in controlling the virus.

“Because everybody is rushing (to drink) before 8 p.m., bars and restaurants end up becoming more crowded, I think,” she said.

Shortly after 9 p.m., solicitors on the streets were trying to bring in customers, saying, “Hey, this izakaya is still open.”

Multiple groups of young people were drinking on the streets.

A 21-year-old male university student who lives in Tokyo said: “I put up with this for a year, but corona didn’t go away. Everybody feels strongly that it is no use trying to bite the bullet anyway. That is why I think everybody comes here.”

Many people gather at a square in Tokyo’s Kabukicho district in Shinjuku Ward at 8:28 p.m. on April 19. (Toshiyuki Hayashi)

Tokyo’s Kabukicho District at 10 p.m.

Around a corner of a main street, a sign of a restaurant advertised, “We are open until morning.”

The eatery was filled to capacity with salarymen and young people.


The pre-emergency measures have had an effect, albeit somewhat limited, on the movement of people in Tokyo and Osaka, according to an Asahi Shimbun analysis of data collected by Agoop Corp., a subsidiary of SoftBank Corp.

The Asahi Shimbun compared the data for 9 p.m.

Foot traffic in Osaka’s Minami district plunged by 17 percent in the week starting from April 5, when the pre-emergency measures were implemented in Osaka, compared with the previous week that started on March 29.

The reduction was 16 percent for the week starting from April 12, compared with the week from March 29, indicating the decline has bottomed out.

The movement of people in Tokyo’s Kabukicho district fell by 5 percent in the week starting from April 12, when the pre-emergency measures were applied in the capital, compared with the previous week.

The data also showed that foot traffic near JR Osaka Station declined 7 percent in the week starting on April 5, compared to the week before, and dropped by 10 percent in the second week.

The movement of people near JR Tokyo Station in the week from April 12 was down by 1 percent, compared to the week before.

But a comparison with times under the previous state of emergency during the third wave of the virus paints a starkly different picture.

Foot traffic near Osaka Station jumped by 26 percent in the week starting from April 5, compared with the week from Jan. 14 to 20.

Near Tokyo Station, the number of people soared by 40 percent in the week starting from April 12, compared with the first week under the second state of emergency from Jan. 8 to 14.

The data showed that the pre-emergency measures have had a limited effect in halting the movement of people.

(This article was written by Chifumi Shinya, Hiroaki Takeda and Yusuke Nagano.)