Are restaurants and bars in Japan open?
Some were never fully closed. While bars were asked to close by many prefectural governments such as Tokyo, Osaka and Fukuoka, restaurants and izakayas could stay open, with limited operating hours. While many of these establishments did voluntarily close or were sadly forced to close permanently for financial reasons, most people in Japan still had the choice of dining out if they wanted to during the emergency declaration.
Since the emergency declaration has been rescinded, we have noticed that most bars, restaurants, cafes and izakayas have returned to normal operating hours and are seeing a rise again in customers as patrons head back to their favourite sushi, okonomiyaki, yakitori, yakiniku, nabe, tempura, and teppanyaki establishments.
Restaurants, bars and izakayas are still an unquestionable culinary and cultural highlight of travel in Japan
What safety mesaures are in place?
On our Japan coronavirus news page we discuss the large regional variations in the spread of coronavirus in the country, and thus the length and severity of emergency declaration measures implemented by different prefectures in April and May. We are seeing a similarly wide range of approaches to safety measures and precautions in eating and drinking establishments not just regionally but also within towns and cities. Neighbouring establishments can often have different measures and requirements in place.
Many establishments have taken the threat of coronavirus seriously when returning to business and have introduced a host of measures to keep their patrons safe. We have seen a number of restaurants implementing at least some (but not usually all) of the measures below:
- Using hand sanitizer upon entering and leaving
- Spacing patrons out in order to maintain social distancing
- Wiping down all surfaces including chairs and tables between sittings
- Ventilating the establishment as much as possible, by keeping windows and doors open (even when it's raining!)
- Using plastic sheeting to separate patrons from staff - and sometimes from each other!
- Plastic face shields have also been given out by some establishments
Hand sanitiser can be frequently found, and is often required, in many establishments
Does everywhere have safety measures?
While there are lots of establishments with new safety measures, anyone walking the streets in Japan will notice that there are also many other bars and eateries that don't have many or any particular safety measures in place - either because they are unable to or they have chosen not to. In these places there are very few differences from pre-covid days.
For example, many of the small counter-seat izakayas, or tachinomi (standing bars) have been unable to introduce social distancing measures, either because space is extremely limited and/or because reducing the number of customers means their business is no longer viable. Other establishments have tried to maintain the personal connection between chefs and patrons and have chosen not to introduce new barriers between them (such as plastic sheeting or distancing).
As we mentioned before, huge regional differences (link) in the numbers of confirmed cases of coronavirus across Japan mean that many places further away from the big cities have seen hardly any direct effects of the virus and so many of the restaurant here have not felt the need for drastic changes in their health and hygiene measures.
To get a better idea of what some restaurants may look like, take a look at the latest video from our Tokyo Department Manager, Tyler, as he walked through the streets of Meguro, in Tokyo.
Local restaurants in Iwaki City are encouraging people to sign up for the local government's coronavirus prevention scheme by offering prize money to 5000 lucky winners each month!
What can I do to keep myself safe?
Following the government guidelines for good health and hygiene is a good start point. Wash your hands with soap and warm water frequently, and avoid touching your face, especially your eyes, nose and mouth.
Consider a takeout. In order to stay open or viable during the emergency declaration, many businesses in towns and cities moved to takeout or delivery options and have continued to do so even after re-opening fully. If you like the look of the menu but feel uncomfortable eating in, why not ask if you can take your meal as mochi-kaeri (take-away)? Japan has some excellent parks and gardens, even in the busiest parts of Tokyo, so if it's nice weather you could turn your lunch or dinner into an enjoyable picnic. If you just want something simple for a picnic, then convenience stores are also an excellent option, offering everything from sandwiches, to rice balls, to meals that can be heated up in store for you.
Keep an eye out for establishments with outdoor seating. The government has recently announced that terrace-style eating on the streets will be allowed, at least until the end of November (TimeOut Tokyo). While already common in many other countries, this is a big change in Japan, and we're certainly looking forward to having more meals outside!
Pay cashless (if possible). While cashless payment is still uncommon in Japan, particularly in rural areas, the coronavirus pandemic has led to a rise in services that offer payment by card or contactless devices.
Bento boxes (take-out lunch boxes) are a culinary staple of Japan
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