• Kyodo

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Businesses that support the game of table tennis by providing people a place to play have been struggling due to the new coronavirus epidemic in Japan, with many owners forced to close their doors.

Naomitsu Uda is one owner who has decided to temporarily shut down his operation due to the pneumonia-causing virus. His club located in the western Tokyo city of Chofu, which only opened in February, has about 40 members.

"I wonder how many more months this will last," said the 49-year-old Uda, whose 18-year-old son Yukiya won his first national championship in January.

On Feb. 28, the education ministry asked education boards across the country to close as part of efforts to contain the outbreak, prompting many to follow the request. Uda soon realized there was a real need for businesses like his.

"I could see how elementary school students were getting weaker from a lack of exercise once schools were closed," said Uda, who kept his club open as long as possible in response to pleas from the members. "A lot of people were becoming table tennis refugees."

But when the Japanese government declared a state of emergency in April, Uda decided he could no longer continue.

In the meantime, he supports his club's members by sharing workouts they can do at home, while answering questions they may have.

Although Uda has asked members to take their temperature daily and has been preparing to open the club once the state of emergency is lifted, the future remains unclear.

He said he hears stories from other clubs about how they are struggling to make ends meet with rent, payroll and other expenses.

"I've been enduring, but there is no income. It's difficult to tell if I'll be able to resume quickly after this (state of emergency) is lifted," Uda said.

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