Photo/Illutration A restaurant near JR Kawaguchi Station in Saitama Prefecture posts a sign saying alcohol is not being served. (Keita Yamaguchi)

Bars and restaurants outside of Tokyo have stopped serving alcohol to prevent imbibers in the capital from fleeing their state of emergency, crossing borders to grab some drinks, and potentially spreading the novel coronavirus.

But not all businesses have followed suit. And many are receiving free advertising about the availability of alcohol in those establishments.

Under the COVID-19 state of emergency in Tokyo, drinking places have halted sales of booze to cut down on foot traffic, particularly in entertainment districts, and halt the latest surge in novel coronavirus infections.

The neighboring prefectures of Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba are only covered by pre-emergency measures, and they had been asking bars and restaurants to close early.

But from April 28, a total of 36 municipalities in the three prefectures asked businesses to also refrain from serving alcohol in a bid to prevent throngs of Tokyoites from venturing across prefectural borders in search of a drink.

After the state of emergency took effect in the capital on April 25, one popular destination for drinkers was the Kanagawa Prefecture city of Kawasaki, located across the Tamagawa river from Tokyo’s Ota Ward.

But on the evening of April 28, many bars and restaurants near JR Kawasaki Station had posted signs saying alcohol was not being served.

Others have closed down for the duration of the pre-emergency measures.

The manager of one restaurant that complied with the prefectural government request to stop serving alcohol and close at 8 p.m. pointed to another establishment across the road.

The “izakaya” Japanese-style pub not only was still open, but it was also serving alcohol. Six groups were in that izakaya, and customers in five of the groups were not wearing face masks.

The restaurant manager said sales on April 28 were only a third of the take the previous day.

“Customers are clearly going to places that serve alcohol,” the manager said.

A man in his 40s who drank at the izakaya with two colleagues said he worked near JR Kamata Station in Ota Ward and he could not think of a bar or restaurant near that station where he could get a drink.

“Kawasaki is a large place, so I thought there had to be a place that served alcohol,” he said, adding that he was aware Kanagawa Prefecture was covered by pre-emergency measures.

He and his colleagues took the train for one stop to quench their thirsts.

“We wore face masks when we were talking, and I drank with people I work with every day,” the man said. “People who want to drink will do so after finding an open bar.”

A 26-year-old company employee was taking photos with his smartphone of izakaya open for business near Kawasaki Station.

“I was informing friends living in Tokyo what places were still open at this time of night,” the man said.

While he had avoided drinking parties last year, he said he has attended about two such sessions every month this year.

“We refrained for over a year, so I believe from now it is all about self-responsibility,” he said.


Local government requests are being followed in Kawaguchi in Saitama Prefecture. The city is located across the Arakawa river from Tokyo’s Akabane, long known for its many bars where customers could get a buzz for 1,000 yen ($9).

One “yakitori” grilled chicken place in Kawaguchi that has been in business for more than three decades had about 30 customers on April 27. The following night, after the no-booze rule took effect, only six customers were seated at the counter.

And they were drinking non-alcoholic beer or oolong tea with their chicken.

Other establishments in the area posted signs saying they were either closing or not serving alcohol from April 28.

The 64-year-old owner of the yakitori restaurant said: “Many of the businesses here have a long history, so there is unity. We obey the rules because we are aware others are watching.”

The 44-year-old owner of a Kawaguchi izakaya that opened in May 2020 had to tell five groups of young potential customers that his place was not serving alcohol.

After the second state of emergency for Saitama Prefecture was lifted, the izakaya’s 40 or so seats were filled every day between late March and early April. On April 26 and 27, when the izakaya closed its doors at 8 p.m., about 30 customers showed up each day, with many saying it might be their last chance to drink there.

On April 28, the izakaya had only two customers.

The owner said: “Kawaguchi may not have an image as ‘a place to go for drinks.’ I felt ‘not again’ just after sales began picking up. I had hoped for more customers during the Golden Week of national holidays, but this puts me in a bind.”

(This article was written by Keita Yamaguchi and Yusuke Nagano.)