Japan experienced its first weekend after the state of emergency was lifted in 39 prefectures, where restaurants and shopping streets enjoyed a semblance of normalcy for the first time in about a month.
While many people joyously headed out to hit downtown streets and bars, others confessed that their spirits were not fully lifted yet, sobered by the prospect that a full-fledged return to the pre-COVID way of life still seemed a long way off.
The state of emergency was lifted even in some of the 13 prefectures designated as needing special vigilance, including Ibaraki, Ishikawa, Gifu, Aichi and Fukuoka.
At Megusuta, a bar in the city of Fukuoka, customers were seen sipping drinks while making sure to keep their distance from each other.
“I’ve been able to drink outside home for the first time in a month. I’ve been looking forward to the state of emergency being lifted,” said a jovial Akiko Kimura, 35, as she guzzled a lemon sour cocktail. She was visiting the bar with her husband.
But the place was nowhere near as full as it had been before the coronavirus wave engulfed the nation. Store owner Kosuke Miyabe, 37, said he is making sure that no more than three customers will share the same table, as well as placing a cap on the number of those allowed inside.
“Before things truly go back to normal, we’ll have to continue takeout services,” he said wearily.
The shopping street dubbed Kinsan in central Nagoya was less crowded, partly because it was raining.
“Normally on Saturday nights, this place is full,” Yutaka Masaki, owner of a local izakaya (traditional Japanese pub), said with a tone of disappointment. His store has now halved its number of seats as part of the anti-infection measures, but customers haven’t returned yet, he added.
“I wish the virus would go away soon so that I can see this place teeming with customers every day, like I used to,” he said.
In Katamachi, a shopping street in the city of Kanazawa, some restaurants and bars still remain unable to reopen.
Yuka Nakane, 40, an employee for one of these establishments, said, “The lifting of the state of emergency was so abrupt that we didn’t have time to prepare for the resumption. We’re still considering when to reopen.”
A Mitsui Outlet Park branch in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, reopened at 11 a.m. Saturday, attracting families and couples as they ambled around browsing for fashion brands — all the while wearing masks.
“Even if the state of emergency is lifted, we can’t really travel beyond our own prefecture so I’m still feeling a little under the weather,” said company employee Yuzuru Nakagawa, 51.
“But there were some sporting goods I wanted to check out, so here I am.”
The gradual restoration of normalcy in some prefectures, however, has prompted concerns over complacency taking hold, with Yasutoshi Nishimura, economic revitalization minister, warning Friday that people are relaxing too soon.
Speaking at a regular news briefing, Nishimura asserted the lifting of the emergency has caused an increase in movement and travel in prefectures designated as requiring special vigilance.
“People are letting their guard down. There could be a huge resurgence,” Nishimura said. At the same time, though, he defended the government’s decision to lift the emergency in the 39 prefectures as the right move.
Still, Nishimura pointed out that residents are going out more and more not just in those 39 prefectures, but also in high-risk urban areas where the state of emergency is still in place, following the reopening of some businesses. The minister, without citing sources, said people’s mobility as of Thursday evening in downtown parts of Tokyo, Osaka and Sapporo increased roughly 10 to 20 percent from a day earlier.
“We still ask them to stay at home. If the number of new cases starts to rise again, we can’t lift the emergency there,” he said.