• Jiji


A Tokyo yakatabune pleasure boat operator has resumed service after halting operations in mid-January due to a coronavirus outbreak among customers and employees.

Funasei Ltd. had been hit by negative rumors and comments, as well as numerous reservation cancellations, because it was seen as a spreader of the then largely unknown disease.

“Now we’ll look ahead to keep the torch of tradition burning,” said manager Yoko Ito, 67.

On Thursday evening, Ito, clad in a yellowish green kimono, and other Funasei employees were busy cleaning and sanitizing a roofed pleasure boat reserved for about 10 customers ahead of their arrival.

Social distancing measures were fully in place, with up to four customers accepted for each table for eight. Ventilation and disinfection were conducted frequently.

That day, the boat sailed alone on the Sumida River and near the Odaiba waterfront area in Tokyo Bay.

After the tour, a customer said, “The night view was wonderful,” while another said, “We felt safe because there were no other customers,” according to Ito.

In mid-January, coronavirus infection occurred among a group of customers who had a party aboard a Funasei ship. Later, two employees were found to be infected.

At that time, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government said Funasei employees had come into contact with travelers from Wuhan, China.

But a travel agency told Funasei that the travelers did not include infected people, according to Ito.

Cancellations caused losses to balloon by hundreds of millions of yen, while a flood of telephone calls came in to complain following intensive media reports on the outbreak. Even a threatening letter arrived.

“At that time, I always looked down when I walked outside for shopping,” Ito said.

She once thought she could no longer restart the service. But she learned that her business was classified as an eating and drinking service under the metropolitan government’s request for voluntary business suspensions, meaning the closure would not need to be permanent.

She began preparations to reopen Funasei just days before the request was eased Tuesday.

“We can’t move ahead unless we reboot ourselves. Our repeat customers and others gave us a push,” she said.

At Funasei, weekend reservations have decreased to 10 percent of the level seen before the COVID-19 crisis, which was around 270. But Ito is determined to continue business.

“Yakatabune boats have tatami mats and offer customers various views that change according to the seasons,” she said. “Our restart is the first step. We’ll look ahead and work hard, also for the protection of Japanese tradition and tourism resources.”

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