National

Crowds pack Japan’s shopping arcades despite pandemic emergency

Kyodo

Despite the official state of emergency declared over COVID-19, people are still flocking to shopping arcades in Tokyo and other big cities across the nation.

Data released Sunday by NTT Docomo Inc. shows that crowd levels Saturday in major shopping districts, including Shinjuku in Tokyo and Umeda in Osaka, had sunk to below 20 percent of levels seen during a typical weekend day before the pandemic, meeting the government’s request to reduce person-to-person contact by as much as 80 percent.

However, many smaller shopping areas are still seeing crowded conditions.

On Sunday afternoon, a shopping arcade in the Musashikoyama district of Shinagawa Ward, Tokyo, was busy with pedestrians, many of whom were wearing masks.

Roughly 40 percent of the 200 shops lining the 800-meter-long street had either closed or shortened their operating hours, but supermarkets were still packed with people purchasing daily essentials.

“I do think there are more people compared with other shopping arcades, but it can’t be helped as there are many people living nearby,” said a 45-year-old woman who had just purchased some instant noodles from a supermarket.

The shopping street’s promotional association has been taking measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including opening the roof of the arcade twice a day for ventilation.

“Many of the shoppers are local people, and I think the outings are limited to essential ones,” an association official said.

The street has also canceled major events, but the association has received an increasing number of calls over the past week to do more — or even shut down the entire area.

“We will do whatever we can,” the official said.

Officials at the nearby Togoshi-Ginza shopping street have asked people to refrain from making nonessential outings and called on tourists not to come, but the area remains crowded.

Alarmed by the crowds forming in parts of Tokyo, Gov. Yuriko Koike urged the public in a video released Sunday to avoid gathering in groups, coming into close contact with others and going to closed environments.

“I would like to ask whole families not to go and buy daily necessities,” Koike said.

Her request, however, seems to be falling in deaf ears.

“We still need to buy food and sanitary goods,” said a 41-year-old man out shopping with his family. “We wear masks and we try to keep our distance when we line up.”

Meanwhile, merchants who have not been asked to shut down under the state of emergency are struggling to keep the virus at bay and still run their businesses.

A 42-year-old restaurant owner in Togoshi-Ginza said he was keeping his diner open by “placing seats wider apart and increasing the ventilation.”

Masahiro Tsuji, 64, who runs a produce market in the area, said that while he wanted to shut down his shop “because I have a pre-existing condition, I have to stay open to pay the rent.”

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