Who among us can deny the romance of a once-in-a-lifetime kaiseki meal, or slurping ramen with drunken salarymen at 2 a.m.? Whether it’s the sleeper hit TV series “Midnight Diner,” cult ramen film “Tampopo” or David Chang’s Netflix series “Ugly Delicious,” media depictions of Japanese culinary culture are just one reason why, according to a report from the World Tourism Organization, over 75 percent of foreign tourists stated their main purpose of travel to Japan is to enjoy Japanese food.

But the events of 2020 dealt a massive blow to the country’s hospitality industry. April saw a staggering 99.9-percent drop in overseas visitor numbers compared to the previous year, cutting off vital trade for restaurants reliant on tourism. Tour operations nationwide have largely ground to a halt, with many in the industry being retrenched or furloughed. Those bars and restaurants remaining open must contend with the “Three Cs” — being closed, crowded and with close-range conversation.

For a select few, things have not changed substantially. Ryuta Kumakura, a private guide based in Kyoto, counts himself lucky. Though all his spring reservations were canceled, recent weeks have seen an uptick in work. His clients, many of whom are repeat customers, include well-off Tokyoites and Hong Kongers (despite Japan’s border restrictions, the Japan National Tourism Organization recorded a small number of visitors arriving from Hong Kong in April), non-Japanese residents and remote workers in Japan, many from the IT sector.