Travel

Tokyo without tourists

How the megapolis looked with 99.9 percent fewer sightseers

The shopping arcade leading to Sensoji Temple, one of Tokyo’s most prominent tourist sites. Behind each set of shutters is a shop that usually sells trinkets to visitors. With a 99.9 percent drop in tourists and borders yet to open, most remain shuttered even now. | OSCAR BOYD
The shopping arcade leading to Sensoji Temple, one of Tokyo’s most prominent tourist sites. Behind each set of shutters is a shop that usually sells trinkets to visitors. With a 99.9 percent drop in tourists and borders yet to open, most remain shuttered even now. | OSCAR BOYD

Although the state of emergency has been lifted across Japan, the impact of COVID-19 is still immediately obvious at popular tourist spots across Tokyo and at the city’s major transport hubs.

They remain far quieter than normal, although this is hardly surprising. April’s tourist numbers were down 99.9 percent from a year earlier, from around 3 million to just 3,000. The number of people using the city’s transit network has also plummeted, with the central Yamanote Line recording a 60 percent drop in commuting passengers following the state of emergency.

Before COVID-19, I’d never thought of Tokyo as a quiet city but throughout the state of emergency I began to doubt myself. In normal times, its central zones are thronged with people — locals, commuters, day-trippers and tourists from around the world. Which is why it felt so strange seeing empty streets, the city’s most frequented places deserted apart from a few lonely stragglers.

This series, taken throughout April, attempts to capture the feeling of how Tokyo looked during the height of the state of emergency. The same city, but without its people.

[Click on photos to enlarge.]

A lone monk walks through the central courtyard of Meiji Jingu, one of Tokyo’s largest shrines, dedicated to the spirits of the Meiji Emperor and Empress. Located not far from Harajuku, the shrine usually receives 3 million visitors a year. Throughout the state of emergency, it was largely deserted. | OSCAR BOYD
A lone monk walks through the central courtyard of Meiji Jingu, one of Tokyo’s largest shrines, dedicated to the spirits of the Meiji Emperor and Empress. Located not far from Harajuku, the shrine usually receives 3 million visitors a year. Throughout the state of emergency, it was largely deserted. | OSCAR BOYD

Shinjuku Station is normally the busiest in the world, connecting the western edge of central Tokyo to the outer commuter zones and prefectures. This was taken around 10 p.m. on a Tuesday night in April, when the station is usually thronged with commuters. Passenger numbers at the station fell by around 75 percent during the state of emergency, although they have risen since. | OSCAR BOYD
Shinjuku Station is normally the busiest in the world, connecting the western edge of central Tokyo to the outer commuter zones and prefectures. This was taken around 10 p.m. on a Tuesday night in April, when the station is usually thronged with commuters. Passenger numbers at the station fell by around 75 percent during the state of emergency, although they have risen since. | OSCAR BOYD

Glitzy Ginza is home to flagship stores of many high-end fashion labels. Those shops were closed by the state of emergency and the streets around them emptied. | OSCAR BOYD
Glitzy Ginza is home to flagship stores of many high-end fashion labels. Those shops were closed by the state of emergency and the streets around them emptied. | OSCAR BOYD

The Imperial Palace saw around 2.2 million visitors in 2019 and here, at one of the main viewing points for its keep, you can normally get your photo taken by a professional photographer who spends all day just doing that. He was gone, as were all the other visitors. | OSCAR BOYD
The Imperial Palace saw around 2.2 million visitors in 2019 and here, at one of the main viewing points for its keep, you can normally get your photo taken by a professional photographer who spends all day just doing that. He was gone, as were all the other visitors. | OSCAR BOYD

Kabukicho is a well-known red light district near Shinjuku Station, though the area still has its fair share of “wholesome” entertainment, including the Robot Restaurant (shut by the state of emergency) and the famous Toho Cinemas Godzilla statue. | OSCAR BOYD
Kabukicho is a well-known red light district near Shinjuku Station, though the area has its fair share of “wholesome” entertainment, including the Robot Restaurant (shut by the state of emergency) and the famous Toho Cinemas Godzilla statue. | OSCAR BOYD

Located to the northeast of Shinjuku Station, Golden Gai is popular with tourists, but its crowded, small and poorly ventilated bars are the stuff of an epidemiologists nightmare. So it was unsurprising to see the bars shut during the state of emergency. The crowds were gone, the bar lights off and only the faint smell of stale alcohol remained. | OSCAR BOYD
Located to the northeast of Shinjuku Station, Golden Gai is popular with tourists, but its crowded, small and poorly ventilated bars are the stuff of an epidemiologist’s nightmare. So it was unsurprising to see the bars shut during the state of emergency. The crowds were gone, the bar lights off and only the faint smell of stale alcohol remained. | OSCAR BOYD

While the state of emergency forced an abrupt change to most people’s lives, some saw the empty city as an opportunity. Here a couple uses an empty Tokyo Station as a backdrop for their wedding photos. On average, more than 500,000 people use Tokyo Station every day. | OSCAR BOYD
While the state of emergency forced an abrupt change to most people’s lives, some saw the empty city as an opportunity. Here a couple uses an empty Tokyo Station as a backdrop for their wedding photos. On average, more than 500,000 people use Tokyo Station every day. | OSCAR BOYD

The interior of Sensoji temple. Once, at the new year, I queued for well over an hour to get to the shrine from where this picture was taken. | OSCAR BOYD
The interior of Sensoji temple. Once, at the new year, I queued for well over an hour to get to the shrine from where this picture was taken. | OSCAR BOYD

The flow of people crossing the five-way crosswalk outside Shibuya Station never really stops, but the state of emergency brought the famous crossing as close to empty as it might ever be. On a normal day, Shibuya Station serves around 2.4 million passengers, and it is estimated around 3,000 people cross here each time the pedestrian lights turn green. | OSCAR BOYD
The flow of people crossing the five-way crosswalk outside Shibuya Station never really stops, but the state of emergency brought the famous crossing as close to empty as it might ever be. On a normal day, Shibuya Station serves around 2.4 million passengers, and it is estimated around 3,000 people cross here each time the pedestrian lights turn green. | OSCAR BOYD

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