National

Snow and store closures keep Tokyo crowds at bay over critical coronavirus weekend

by Masumi Koizumi and Ryusei Takahashi

Staff writers

A rare late-March snowfall coupled with numerous store closures helped keep Tokyo residents indoors Sunday, day two of a crucial weekend in the city’s attempt to contain the spread of COVID-19.

With snow falling across the Kanto region from morning until around noon, an icy slush blanketed streets populated with far fewer cars and pedestrians than usual due to Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike’s request to refrain from going out for nonessential reasons.

While supermarkets and some other businesses remained open, a number of department stores and entertainment facilities in the capital closed for both days. Among them were Takashimaya department stores, Lumine shopping malls and Toho Co. movie theaters.

Shibuya’s scramble crossing — the famed intersection in the youth fashion district known for its endless, chaotic crowds — was uncharacteristically quiet earlier in the day, with only a smattering of pedestrians walking to and fro while trying to shield themselves from the snow with umbrellas and thick scarves.

The landmark Shibuya 109 shopping complex, a mecca for the young and fashion-conscious, was closed for the weekend as well.

Even the cherry blossoms lining the Meguro River, which attract hundreds of thousands of residents every year, were drawing a fraction of the viewers despite being near full bloom. Still, a number of couples, families and dedicated photographers, among others, braved the weather to get a quick look.

Live footage on NHK’s website in the afternoon showed trickles of people passing through Kaminarimon, the famed red gate that serves as the entrance to the Asakusa district’s famed Sensoji Temple, and the nearly empty surrounding alleys. Gone were the usual crowds of tourists snapping selfies in front of the popular landmark.

Online, people were sharing photos of the events taking place outside and of life holed up at home, including cooking and other adventures in the kitchen.

One tweet posted an image of an eerily quiet Fujimori Park in Hachioji and rows of snow-covered cherry blossoms.

“The park is usually packed with people for cherry blossom viewing but few people were here today because of the coronavirus and snow,” user @shyuyuri1212, who posted the image, said.

While many Tokyoites complied with Koike’s plea to stay home, it was unclear whether the measures would stem the spread of the virus and allow the city to avoid a lockdown. On Sunday afternoon, Tokyo officials said another 68 new infections had been confirmed. This again reset the single-day record.

Still, not everywhere was deserted. At the other end of the spectrum, an image posted on Twitter showed a long line of people with umbrellas waiting to enter a pachinko parlor in the Akihabara electronics district.

The posting by user @kaztsu was retweeted thousands of times and drew reactions like, “I don’t understand why people are scrambling for pachinko despite the risk of infections. That is a nonessential and nonurgent outing.”

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