Food & Drink | TOKYO FOOD FILE

Japan's restaurants in crisis call for government support

by Robbie Swinnerton

Contributing writer

Lockdown or no lockdown? Voluntary restraint or #juststayhome? Tokyo is teetering on the edge of uncertainty. We’re urged to avoid bars and nightclubs, live houses and pachinko parlors. But where does that leave restaurants? Two words: In crisis.

Even without a formal announcement, so far, of a coronavirus state of emergency, most of the Japanese public has been heeding the warnings to avoid central Tokyo, especially in the evenings. This can only be a good thing for the overburdened medical system. But it is a calamity for chefs.

With some serious belt-tightening, some restaurants may stagger through. But many others are likely to find it impossible to survive the financial hit of staying closed for a month or more.

This is not a problem unique to Japan. But some countries, such as Denmark, have governments that care about chefs and other small business owners, who together play such a vital role in the overall economy.

One who is not prepared to sit back and watch the collapse of his industry is Osaka-based chef Hajime Yoneda. His self-named, three-Michelin-starred restaurant, Hajime, depends heavily on visiting gastronomes as well as local clientele.

At the end of March, he launched a petition — already with more than 90,000 signatures at the time of writing — calling for special government support for fixed costs (such as rent and utilities), as well as subsidies to cover the salaries of workers who are laid off. He is asking everyone who enjoys eating out, both in and outside Japan, to raise their voices and sign.

To sign the petition (Japanese only), visit bit.ly/savejapansrestaurants. For information in English about Yoneda’s movement, visit bit.ly/hajimeyoneda-fb.

In line with the nationwide state of emergency declared on April 16, the government is strongly requesting that residents stay at home whenever possible and refrain from visiting bars, restaurants, music venues and other public spaces.

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