People in Tokyo and four other prefectures cautiously embraced a return to a sense of normalcy Tuesday, a day after the central government lifted the state of emergency, a move that is expected to see the reopening of schools, shopping malls, restaurants and other businesses.
But some voiced concern that the end of the state of emergency seven weeks after it was initially declared in early April could trigger another wave of infections, calling for measures to prevent the spread of the virus to remain in place.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday ended the state of emergency for Tokyo, Kanagawa, Chiba, Saitama and Hokkaido, after it was lifted for the rest of the country earlier this month.
"There seems to be slightly more people," said a male worker in his 30s who was among others headed to their office in front of Tokyo Station.
Some people returned to the Shibuya shopping and entertainment district in Tokyo.
"I had long been working from home," said Tomoka Ino, 24, who visited Shibuya from her home in Yokohama for the first time in a while. "I want to go out for dinner with my friends."
An Odakyu department store in the capital's busy Shinjuku shopping district reopened, with its workers wearing face masks and face guards.
"I had been waiting for the reopening. It's fun to be at a department store after a while," said 77-year-old Katsuyo Miura who traveled in from Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture.
Playground equipment at municipal parks, which had been off limits, were also made available again.
Children dashed to the swings, jungle gyms and other equipment as soon as workers removed the safety tape from them at Kinuta Park in Setagaya Ward.
"I am really glad because I can now let my child play at a park without constraint," said Megumi Tsukahara, 31, who lives nearby with her 2-year-old son Soma.
In Chiba Prefecture, where restrictions were similarly lifted, a theater was preparing to start welcoming visitors from Wednesday, with its staff sanitizing seats and ticket machines.
In Sapporo, seafood restaurant worker Takahiro Miura was hopeful the number of customers at the eatery would return to normal by the peak of the summer.
Sales at the restaurant in April tumbled 90 percent from a year earlier. The number of domestic and foreign customers plummeted from late February, he said.
"If our restaurant remains empty for another six months, we'll be in a severe situation," Miura added.
Parents are hoping that schools will reopen to make up for lost time and reduce family stress.
"I can't take care of my children all day long at home anymore. I need time for myself," said a 43-year-old mother of two in Yokohama.
Some parents are worried about the increased burden on teachers, as they will need to take extra care to hold classes while preventing the spread of the virus.
The lifting of the emergency also left some people concerned about a second wave of infections, even though they understood the need to buoy the economy.
"I've seen an increasing number of commuters on the train. I worry about a second wave of infections if many people go back to life as normal," said Shizuka Miyakawa, a 61-year-old resident of Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, who works for a bank.
Yoshio Hayashi, who lives in Inzai, Chiba Prefecture, said the end of the declaration was necessary for the economy. But "if we take safety into consideration, we could have been more careful about lifting it," the 78-year-old said.
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