With the state of emergency having now been lifted in 39 of the nation’s 47 prefectures, industry groups have unveiled an array of COVID-19 prevention measures that businesses will be expected to implement before reopening, including a possible shift to a four-day workweek.

The guidelines issued by each industry offer a glimpse into how life here may evolve as businesses explore how best to reconcile themselves to coexisting with the novel coronavirus in the long term.

Underlying each of the guidelines is implementation of stricter hygiene standards, improved ventilation in work areas and more stringent social distancing measures.

Keidanren, the nation’s most powerful business lobby group, called on member companies to consider introducing three-day weekends, a shift that would be a radical experiment in a nation where the culture of overwork is deeply ingrained.

It also recommended a raft of other flexible work practices, including promoting telework, staggering commuting hours and encouraging employees to drive to their workplace.

The measures are partly meant to minimize workers’ exposure to public transport, and the inherent issues that come with crowded trains during the rush hour that many have cited as the embodiment of what the government calls the “Three Cs” — closed, crowded and with close-range conversation.

Keidanren also urged companies to shift their meetings, events and job interviews online, and figure out ways to hold shareholders meetings without having to physically gather in one location.

In a separate guideline for manufacturing jobs, Keidanren recommended that employers limit attendance at morning meetings and roll calls to as few workers as possible, and demarcate each assembly line to prevent the movement of personnel across factories.

In a guideline published Friday, the Japan Foodservice Association called on restaurants to divide tables with partitions or keep them at least one meter away from each other. If customers have to sit facing each other, plastic sheets should be employed as partitions, it said.

Restaurants are also advised to discourage customers from conversing with each other while dining, and restrict their entry in order to prioritize social distancing. When accommodating groups, the use of large plates to carry meals should be avoided; instead food should be served individually to each customer, according to the guideline.

Industry groups, including those for supermarkets, convenience stores, department stores and drug stores, said in a joint statement that food sampling sessions should be canceled for now, while calling for the promotion of cashless payments.

Retailers, the guideline added, should also set aside certain hours of the day to prioritize services for customers considered particularly vulnerable to the virus, such as pregnant women, the elderly and those with disabilities.

Pachinko pinball gaming parlors are among businesses being pushed to adjust the manner in which they operate. A cooperative association of entertainment facilities in Osaka reportedly set out a guideline that calls for reducing the number of machines available to prevent customers from sitting side by side, and keeping the volume of background music low so they won’t have to shout to each other when conversing.

The Japan Ryokan and Hotel Association instructed inns and hotels to reduce face-to-face interaction between staff and customers, with steps such as providing detailed explanations of meals available in writing instead of in person.

Customers, it said, should be advised against the practice of oshaku at drinking parties — a tradition in which one offers to pour alcohol for another as a gesture of deference when glasses become empty. The association also suggested that sashimi raw fish — a popular delicacy at inns — should not be served on single large platters but instead doled out separately to each member of a group.

The guideline also included a call for capping the number of customers granted access to large communal bathing areas at any one time, and suspending the rental of bathing towels.

The Japan Juku Association, meanwhile, said the nation’s juku cram schools should focus on remote classes and homeschooling if the virus regains momentum and cases start to increase again.

Industry guidelines

The following is a summary of guidelines issued on May 15 by various industry groups in Japan:

  • Keidanren: Introducing various working styles such as teleworking and three-day weeks
  • Restaurants: Seating moved farther apart and arranged to face the same direction
  • Pachinko parlors: Distributing tickets for parlor entry and keeping every other seat vacant, and turning down music volume
  • Movie theaters: Every other seat kept vacant as well as those directly behind and in front of each viewer
  • Cram schools: Online classes offered as well as those with physical attendance
  • Retailers: Allocating time periods specifically for high-risk shoppers, including elderly people and expectant mothers
  • Airlines: Limiting in-flight drinks to juice boxes
  • Railway operators: Opening windows, turning on ventilation systems and asking passengers to wear masks,
  • Hotels: Limiting face-to-face encounters at reception and avoiding escorting guests to their rooms in person
  • Sports events: Asking participants to wear masks and conducting daily health checks two weeks prior to each event

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