Dining and entertainment establishments welcomed the government's decision Thursday to end the COVID-19 state of emergency in the Tokyo region on Sunday but many remain skeptical about whether it will immediately cause customers to return.
"I feel too embarrassed to even say how few customers we've had," said 67-year-old Isao Sakurai, the manager of a "yakitori" grilled skewered chicken restaurant in Tokyo's Shimbashi district.
The current situation is the toughest in the 55 years since the restaurant opened, he said, adding, "If the situation doesn't change, I probably won't be able to continue running this place."
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga formally announced the government will end the state of emergency in Tokyo and neighboring Kanagawa, Chiba and Saitama prefectures, the last areas of the country under the measure, on Sunday as planned. The emergency was initially declared in early January.
But the governors of Tokyo and the three prefectures affirmed in a virtual meeting that they will continue asking restaurants and bars to close early until the end of March, while pushing back the time by an hour to 9 p.m.
"Business has been terrible so far this year due to obeying requests to shorten hours. Even if we can open until 9 p.m., it will take a long time for performances to return to normal," said Umezo Kato, president of Loft Project, a company operating live music venues in Shinjuku and other areas.
Masato Hojo, the manager of movie theater Euro Space in Tokyo's Shibuya district, expressed doubts about the government issuing the same request to different businesses. But he also said, "We have no choice but to cooperate with any requests."
Still, a movie industry official welcomed the latest development. "With cinemas closing at 8 p.m., we could not expect any moviegoers on their way home from work. Extending by an hour makes all the difference."
Dining establishments have inevitably been hit particularly hard by measures to contain the pandemic.
According to Tokyo Shoko Research, which gathers and analyzes corporate data, the number of Japanese-style "izakaya" pub chain stores across the country fell 12.5 percent in 2020 from the previous year. Twelve out of the 13 operators surveyed were found to have closed some of their outlets, particularly in urban areas.
Royal Holdings Co., which operates a number of restaurant chains including Royal Host, said it will revise its business hours by region based on requests from each prefectural government.
Saizeriya, operator of a low-priced Italian restaurant chain, said it will also obey any requests.
Among retailers, responses varied.
Department store chain Takashimaya said its Shinjuku branch will continue to close at 7:30 p.m., half an hour earlier than its usual closing time. It has yet to decide on whether to extend hours at other stores.
Among other major department store operators, Sogo and Seibu Co. and Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings Ltd. said they will return to normal business hours in their branches in the Tokyo metropolitan area.
There are concerns that coronavirus infections could once again surge as the country enters the season for cherry blossom viewing parties, as well as graduation and school entrance celebrations.
Many people visited Tokyo's Ueno Park, one of the most popular locations for such parties before the pandemic, on Thursday despite an abundance of signs prohibiting picnic parties and other measures to prevent congestion.
"People have already grown complacent even before the emergency is lifted. It's likely we'll see another emergency declaration by summer," said Mari Fujino, a 33-year-old resident of Tokyo who was strolling in the park that day.