Tokyoites cautiously step out as Japan reopens for business

Linda J. Dodson

TOKYO — Visitors to the Tokyo department store now wait in line to first be sanitized and have their temperatures checked before being allowed to shop. But traffic at the reopened Isetan Shinjuku location was still off 30% on the year last weekend, and sales for the entire week also shrank 10%.

A week after Japan fully lifted its state of emergency, businesses are lifting their shutters and turning the lights back on. But customers and workers are not rushing to return.

Visitors are trickling back to major landmarks and stores, foot traffic data shows. But the capital still has far to go before returning to its pre-coronavirus self.

Foot traffic around Tokyo Station around 8 a.m. is 44% below the average from earlier this year, according to estimates provided by Docomo InsightMarketing — an improvement from May 11, when it was down 60%.

Companies say they will limit the number of employees commuting to work. SoftBank Group will have only up to half of its 17,000 domestic personnel come in. Hitachi staffers will have to show up only two or three times a week.

Consumption has been slow to recover. In the Tokyo region, the number of customers entering apparel and general-merchandise stores was down 69% on the year for the week ended Sunday, data from Tokyo analytics startup Abeja shows.

This marks an improvement from the 98% decline during the week ended May 3 but falls short of a real recovery on the sales floor. Abeja analyzes foot traffic in stores via sensors, cameras and artificial intelligence.

Casualwear seller Shimamura’s sales for the week ended Sunday outperformed last year’s figures. But “it’s possible the growth is temporary due to the stimulus payouts and the rebound effect from the sheltering,” a representative said.

Restaurants remain in dire straits because social distancing measures have reduced the number of patrons. Traffic rebounded this past weekend for Denny’s operator Seven & i Food Systems, but “sales have only recovered to about 60% of normal,” a source said.

Prince Hotels villas in Nagao Prefecture are almost fully booked for August, and reservations for July have been favorable. Bookings are on a par with last year, albeit with a portion of the 20 villas unavailable as a disease prevention measure.

The headwinds on the recreation industry have yet to die down. “Domestic travel will actively recover no sooner than October,” said a manager at KNT Shutoken, a travel agency under KNT-CT Holdings.

Universal Studios Japan is slated to reopen next Monday, initially limiting guests to yearly pass holders on its home turf of Osaka. Tokyo Disney Resort has remained closed since late February, with park operator Oriental Land extending the shutdown Monday.

Gasoline consumption has yet to recover substantially. “The number of vehicles that drive past the station has increased, but the volume [of gas] sold is still 30% short of last year,” said the head of a gas station in Tokyo.

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