Since the April 7 state of emergency announcement for Tokyo and six other prefectures, and the gradual easing of restrictions from May onward, a considerable amount of text in domestic media has been dedicated to eating.
In the beginning, an impressive number of articles focused on what to eat in order to develop greater immunity to ward off infection. More recently, weekly magazines and the tabloids have been full of articles about dealing with weight-gain during the lockdown, as evident by a new term in the Japanese lexicon — korona-butori (coronavirus weight-gain) — presumably caused by working remotely from home and a general lack of exercise.
Business magazine Weekly Toyo Keizai (June 27) sent a reporter to Ginza in Tokyo, where the area’s high-class nightclubs had closed across the board.
“No establishment dares to let go of its popular hostesses, but, as the shutdown became prolonged, hostesses who didn’t bring in regular customers have been successively let go,” says a hostess in the neighborhood.
Nearly all of the clubs are owner-operated small businesses and, therefore, unincorporated, so the maximum allowable government stipend is ¥1 million, which is likely to run out after a few months.
“Some women have been getting some assistance from patrons, but I’m left with no choice but to return to my rural hometown,” the hostess says.
As a semblance of normalcy — whatever that is — returns, the question arises as to whether or not it’s safe to patronize a drinking spot.
Spa (June 30) spoke to Dr. Toru Okamura, who was consigned to propose new safety guidelines for the Night Entertainment Business Association, incorporated in 2018, that’s made up of workers in the “water trade.”
Okamura is critical of the “new rules” drawn up by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s expert advisory panel.
“The committee members might be experts on contagious diseases, but they aren’t experts on night life,” Okamura says. “In their view, food and beverage establishments that operate in drinking areas are just like sexy cabaret clubs. I’d like to see the committee bring in more members who know something about night life.”
He adds that it’s also contingent not only upon employees of such businesses taking more precautions, but their customers as well.
“I wonder if customers will be willing to wear masks?” he asks. “Or cooperate by abiding with the measures being taken by the night spots?”
Discussions are said to be underway for clubs that apply the association’s new guidelines to display a membership sticker next to their entrances.
The last few months have also been extremely rough for izakaya, the boisterous, smoky pubs that cater to salarymen. During the months of April and May, the national chains completely shut down, with their turnover reportedly down by 90 percent year on year.
Some chains have begun allowing workers to seek employment in other businesses. Outlets of Tsukada Nojo, a nationwide chain of izakaya operated by AP Co., Ltd., continue to pay furloughed staff 60 percent of their regular salary while they voluntarily moonlight. So far around 400 have volunteered to work in temporary jobs in supermarkets and other businesses, on the condition they’ll return to their original position when business (hopefully) recovers.
The changes in the izakaya business may very well be permanent. In its weekly in-depth business report, Shukan Jitsuwa (July 2) cited a survey of Japan Food Service Association members who determined that their revenue in April fell by 39.6 percent compared to the same month in 2019, the sharpest drop since the survey began.
The Yokohama-based Colowide group has already announced the closure of 196 of its 2,665 outlets.
“The company came to the conclusion that even if the spread of the coronavirus can be brought under control, the severe business conditions were likely to continue,” says an unnamed source in the food and beverage trade.
Friendly, a Kansai-based group operating izakaya, family restaurants and specialty noodle shops, announced the closure of 41 of its 70 outlets.
And this, the article warns, may just be the beginning. With remote work assuming an ever-greater role, the drop-off in customers has been as fatal to restaurants as the virus is to people. One of the most famous to close was Yonosuke Jimbocho Honten, a pub in the Jimbocho bookstore neighborhood, on May 28. Much beloved for preserving its pre-1989 Showa Era atmosphere, it was favored as a hangout by the recently deceased comedian Ken Shimura and used as a locale for TV shows such as “Aibo,” a long-running detective drama on TV Asahi and affiliates. An announcement posted on its website thanked customers for their patronage over its 40-year history.
Writing in his regular column in Yukan Fuji (June 24), restaurateur Miki Watanabe tells readers about the launch of his newest venture, named Watami Delivery.
On June 22, popular TV personality Terry Ito was on hand at the new conference, where he endorsed a takeout specialty service called “The Genius of Deep Frying.” A second eat-in chain, “BBQ Olive Chicken Cafe,” was also launched.
Eschewing food delivery services — which Watanabe feels are too expensive — in favor of his own staff, Watami restaurants apply an incentive system: On orders up to ¥1,500, the delivery charge is ¥350; on orders from ¥1,500 to ¥3,000, the fee goes down to ¥200; and for orders above ¥3,000, delivery is free. So the more a customer spends, the lower the charge.
Watanabe claims his delivery system emulates the traditional business practice of sampō-yoshi (everybody doing well). Originally developed by merchants of the Omi region (present-day Shiga Prefecture) back in pre-modern times, the practice seeks to realize benefits to sellers, buyers and society in general.
Big in Japan is a weekly column that focuses on issues being discussed by domestic media organizations.
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