Amid a rising number of new coronavirus cases in Tokyo and Osaka, there are not many places people can go without risking infection.
But with their wide, open spaces, large parks have become crowded with people hanging out and picnicking under the sun with family and friends, something that is likely to increase during the Golden Week holidays from late April.
On one recent sunny day in Tokyo’s Yoyogi Park, Kohei Koyama, 26, and his friend Kazutoshi Osakabe, 40, chatted for more than four hours, eating delivered Spanish dishes at a park table.
“We had a choice of having lunch at a Spanish restaurant in Shibuya, but it was sunny so we have chosen to come here,” said Osakabe. “It’s nice. We can keep our distance and stay as long as we want. I don’t know why I hadn’t come here before.”
With crowded restaurants and bars posing a higher risk of infection, local governments have been requesting them to close at 8 p.m. under stricter virus measures, prompting people like Koyama and Osakabe to head to parks instead.
Koyama, who works remotely from home, says that he rarely has a chance to get out, and parks have become a new destination for dining, leisure and dating.
“When the pandemic hit, I went to parks and on mountain hikes in the suburbs for dating, and I became more aware of how great nature is,” said Koyama. “I don’t have any travel plans for this Golden Week’s holidays, but I’ll probably spend time in parks and taking walks in nature.”
The Tokyo Metropolitan Park Association, which manages Yoyogi Park and other city-run parks, says more people are visiting the capital’s green spaces, especially in residential areas, during the pandemic although the exact number is unclear.
Serina Tsuneka, 34, and Naho Oya, 37, who both work as yoga instructors, were also among those who came to the park for a picnic under a tree.
“I go to parks more often these days amid the pandemic. It’s a casual place to drop by when you want some fresh air,” said Tsuneka, as she munched on grapes and sandwiches. “I can relax outside rather than staying in, which is a good way to relieve my stress.”
But park operators are also calling on visitors to take social distancing measures as parks become more crowded.
At Yoyogi, for example, a large open area with lawns was off limits, and signs were put up in multiple places warning against large-scale gatherings and urging people to wear masks.
“With (more transmissible) new variants on the rise, we are asking people to wear masks, avoid crowded areas and times, and maintain social distancing,” said Aki Hisama, an official at the Tokyo Metropolitan Park Association.
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