Rapid Flip from Overtourism to Ghost TownGion Emptied of People After State of Emergency Declaration
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, at a meeting of the government's task force on April 11, urged citizens to refrain from using drinking establishments that serve customers with hostesses or hosts in entertainment districts across Japan. The government states that it helps prevent disease clusters, however the plight of such kinds of restaurants and bars is further worsening. We walked through Gion-machi on a night in early April, when a state of emergency had been declared for Tokyo, Osaka, Hyogo and other prefectures based on the Act on Special Measures for Pandemic Influenza and New Infectious Diseases Preparedness and Response in relation to the novel coronavirus, and the Kyoto Prefectural and City Governments had requested residents to refrain from similar activities, just as if they were in the regions subject to the declaration.
As evening falls, the district is crowded with "Geiko" and "Maiko," or geisha and apprentice geisha, in kimono, company employees after work, and luxury cars for pick-ups and drop-off... It feels like this usual scene of Gion, Kyoto, is a forgotten event in the distant past. The district was stone silent after the novel coronavirus outbreak drastically changed it. At 7:00 p.m. on April 9, there was no one in "Hanamikoji," or Gion's main street, which is lined with teahouses and long-established restaurants, each separated by narrow alleys.
"Even combining day and night, there are less than 10 customers per day. It's like the days of the 2018 Western Japan floods or being hit with a huge typhoon," the owner of a creative cuisine restaurant explained as he talked about the serious situation through his mask. Daily sales fell sharply from a year ago, down nearly 90% to less than 20,000 yen. Even fewer customers have come to the restaurant since April 7, when the state of emergency was declared for Osaka and Hyogo Prefectures.
Part-time employees were furloughed in April, and the restaurant is operating with four full-time employees. What this restaurant's owner earnestly desires is to receive the Employment Adjustment Subsidy, with which he would be able to pay leave allowances and other payments to his employees. "I'd like to close the restaurant quickly, but I must protect my employees' lives at all costs," he muttered to himself as though to reaffirm his mission.
"Now it's riskier to open the restaurant. If someone gets infected in the restaurant, it's over," asserted the fourth-generation owner of a Japanese cuisine restaurant, who was preparing to close earlier than usual. He decided to suspend service from April 11 to May 6.(Translated by Mie Hiuzon, Psyche et l’Amour, Inc.)