Many new recruits at public offices, companies and other organizations in Japan started work Thursday, the start of the fiscal year, with events marking their first day on the job largely held online amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Businesses hit hard by the COVID-19 crisis have sharply cut the number of new recruits hired. The percentage of new university graduates who had secured jobs as of Feb. 1 stood at 89.5%, falling for the first time in a decade.

But there may be light at the end of the tunnel for the economy, at least judging by the mood among large manufacturers. Sentiment recovered to pre-pandemic levels in the first quarter as companies plan to increase spending on the back of a solid recovery in global demand, while more firms upgraded their forecasts than downgraded them in February.

Internet helps company entrance ceremonies amid pandemic | NIPPON TV NEWS 24 JAPAN
Internet helps company entrance ceremonies amid pandemic | NIPPON TV NEWS 24 JAPAN

However, growing fears of a fourth wave of COVID-19 at home and the economic impact of the decision not to allow Tokyo Olympic fans from abroad could dampen the mood. That said, International Monetary Fund chief Kristalina Georgieva predicted Tuesday that the country’s economic recovery will not be derailed by staging the Tokyo Games without overseas spectators.

She also hailed Japan’s “strong response” to mitigate the fallout from the pandemic through timely stimulus packages. With elections coming and the coronavirus still rampant, the record ¥106.6 trillion budget passed last week by the Diet is likely to be just the start. Just try not to think about the debt.

Consumer prices continue to fall, though the rate is slowing. The price of land in Japan also fell for the first time in six years in 2020, new data shows, at an average of 0.5%. But there were big differences: Land prices in one Osaka district dropped 28% while a Hokkaido ski town saw the biggest jump in value.