Despite the recent rise in cases in Tokyo, life has continued to return to a 'new normal' across the country after the government's emergency declaration to stop the spread of coronavirus was lifted. 'With Corona' is the mantra being promoted by many Japanese organisations and businesses as the country looks to open up society while remaining vigilant in the fight against the coronavirus.
Emergency declarations were announced in cities like Tokyo, and later nationwide on 7th April. After a feared spike in cases failed to significantly materialise, prefectures with low numbers of cases began to reopen from as early as 14th May (Kyodo News), with Tokyo and its surrounding areas being the final prefectures to see the coronavirus emergency declaration lifted. The following have been largely reopened across the country:
- Restaurants and bars have largely returned to normal business hours
- Gyms and swimming pools
- Museums (for a full list see TimeOut Tokyo)
- Attractions such as Tokyo Disneyland, Universal Studios Japan, and Himeji Castle (Kyodo News)
These re-openings have taken place with a number of measures to protect against further spread of coronavirus and avoid a 'second wave' (NHK World News), including:
- Hand sanitizer at almost every building entrance, from supermarkets to offices
- Gyms and some shops have followed medical clinics in checking the temperature of anyone entering (NHK in Japanese)
- Many restaurants, cafes and bars aim to keep patrons socially distanced, by spacing out tables and limiting the number of people.
The government continues to advise people to:
- Wash hands regularly
- Socially distance 2m from other people
- Wear facemasks in public
- Avoid the 3 C's (mitsu no mitsu in Japanese) of closed spaces, crowded places, and close-contact settings wherever possible.
Mask-wearing is already culturally-engrained in Japan, particularly during flu-season, but also year-round as people try to prevent one's own germs or sickness from spreading in public places. This is seen as particularly important in Japan's densely-populated cities. Aside from health reasons, people also regularly wear masks as a defence against dust and pollen, to cover up blemishes or the fact they are not wearing make-up, and even to make the wearer's face appear smaller! Therefore, while mask-wearing has become a hot topic in other parts of the world, they have undoubtedly become the societal norm since the spread of coronavirus, and many commentators have argued this has helped keep Japan's infection rate low.
We loved reading this article by Nikkei Style (Japanese only) that describes the widespread use of masks from as early as the Meiji period (1868-1912), and as a fashion accessory in later years. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there since the spread of coronavirus has given masks an even greater role in Japanese society, there have been all kinds of iterations, from breathable summer masks by popular fashion brand Uniqlo, to masks designed by kimono makers and famous artists such as Takashi Murakami!
Get more of an idea of what it's like to be in Tokyo right now by watching this short video taken by our Tokyo Department Manager, Tyler, on a recent local trip to Shibuya and the recently-opened Pokémon Store!
Japan is an anomaly in how they handled the initial outbreak. Instead of enforcing a country-wide or city-wide lockdowns, the government declared a state of emergency in stages across the country (all of which have now been lifted). The state of emergency encouraged "non-essential" businesses to shutter their doors, companies to promote more "tele-working", and sports and other live entertainment events to be cancelled. Restaurants and bars were asked to reduce working hours and nightlife venues have received a lot of attention after a number of outbreaks in places such as karaoke bars.
The InsideJapan Tours' Nagoya office team has been working remotely since mid-April and our team reported that during lockdown when they used public transport, passenger volumes were down considerably. Recent statisitcs seem to back this up, with 34% of respondents to a government survey stating they had experienced telework, with this rising to over 55% in the Tokyo region (Japan Times).
Since the end of the emergency declaration, the strong culture of presenteeism in Japan has seen passenger numbers increase again, however there have been calls to make telework a more permanent feature of Japanese work-life (Kyodo News).
There have been no restrictions on visiting shrines and temples and these places are still open for people to enjoy. With inbound tourism on hold these have been much emptier than usual. While many wedding venues have closed voluntarily, an interesting cultural point is that there has been no need to delay getting married as all official marriages in Japan are just a formal signing of papers at City Hall. Very different to the west!
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Local Buddhist monks at Shimbashi station (Tokyo) helped unveil a wall panel of the Medicine Buddha to pray for the recovery from coronavirus (Traicy-Japanese only)Read more >
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