OSAKA – With Prime Minister Shinzo Abe having asked organizers of big sporting and cultural events scheduled for the next two weeks to consider canceling, postponing or downsizing them during what is seen as a critical time for stemming the spread of COVID-19 infections, the list of closed facilities and canceled events is increasing daily.
Universal Studios Japan and Tokyo Disneyland were the latest casualties on Friday, with both theme parks announcing they would close from Saturday through to March 15.
Event cancellations and facility closures have created concerns about the economy, especially in areas of the country relying on a large influx of tourists during the annual cherry blossom-viewing season between late March and early April.
From Hokkaido to Okinawa, events have been postponed or canceled, sometimes at the last minute, while many museums have shut their doors for at least a couple of weeks:
National museums in Tokyo, Nara, Kyoto and Fukuoka are closed until March 15 or 16.
Kabuki performances scheduled between March 2 and 10 in Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka and Fukuoka have been canceled.
Nippon Professional Baseball games will be played without spectators through March 15.
Matches in the J. League’s first and second divisions between now and March 15 have been postponed.
The Japan Sumo Association said Friday the upcoming Spring Grand Sumo Tournament, scheduled in Osaka from March 8 to 22, is unlikely to proceed as planned, indicating that the tournament might be canceled or held behind closed doors.
Meanwhile in Kyoto, which has long suffered from the effects of overtourism, the coronavirus scare has already led to a drop in foreign visitors. The city’s iconic Arashiyama district ironically used that as the basis of an advertising campaign, saying now was a great time to visit because the area is no longer as crowded as it was before.
But with predictions that the cherry blossoms would be arriving in Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima and western Japan during the last two weeks of March, Kyoto businesses are already worried about a negative impact on the local economy.
A survey of Kyoto firms conducted in early February by the Kyoto Chamber of Commerce and Industry showed that a quarter were already suffering losses due to COVID-19, and that businesses catering to foreign tourists were particularly affected. Another 87 percent of Kyoto businesses, including those in the service and manufacturing sectors, said they were concerned about possible effects.
“It’s unclear as to when the end of the virus spread will occur. There is a concern about the effect on production in the first quarter of this (calendar) year as well, as the next fiscal year,” said Yoshio Tateishi, chairman of the Kyoto chamber at a news conference earlier this week.
With so many cancellations and more likely to come, local governments nationwide are advising domestic and international travelers planning to attend local events or visit museums and other public facilities over the next couple of weeks to check ahead of time to ensure they have not been affected.