In Tokyo's lockdown, some drink on even after authorities call time

By Irene Wang and Daniel Leussink
TOKYO (Reuters) - Yuuki Hamazono found it a relief to find bars and restaurants in Tokyo that violated the Japanese government's request to close at 8 p.m.
The 30-year-old financial trader was one of many people in Shimbashi's nightlife on the first weekend of an extended state of emergency. The government urged residents to stay home to help contain the coronavirus.
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Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga declared a state of emergency for Tokyo and the surrounding prefectures this month. He expanded it to 11 prefectures on Wednesday, which make up 55% of the population. Unlike many other countries with mandatory lockdowns, Japanese authorities can only legally urge people to stay home and close businesses.
While compliance has been high - most of the karaoke bars and izakaya tavernas in Shimbashi were closed on Friday night - more people seem to be ignoring the state of emergency this time around than last year.
"There are people who can't have dinner until after 8 pm, including me," Hamazono said, citing his working hours. He and a friend were looking for a place to hide in a jumble of izakayas in Shimbashi's narrow streets.
Giveaways shouted in the street nearby, advertising spaces that were still open.
Authorities have been concerned about the possible spread of infections in bars and restaurants. Many drinking places in Shimbashi are narrow and poorly ventilated.
The government has offered subsidies to facilities that close on time, but some say it is insufficient and worry about the loss of customers.
"Although there are subsidies, relationships of trust are important for restaurants and bars," said Yuji Tobe, a 34-year-old bartender at a drinking place where piles of wood rest on piles of plastic boxes.
"We have a bond with our customers."
Tobe's Bar was nominally closed, although two regulars were still served.
Some criticize the government's half-hearted response. Suga has been accused of acting slowly for fear of damaging the economy. His support has declined.
"It's unclear whether the economy will get going or the corona will stop," said a man who only used his name as Kazumasa. He stood in line for one of the restaurants under the train tracks serving yakitori, skewers of grilled chicken.
The government is considering a change to give authorities more powers to enforce a lockdown, administrative and regulatory reform minister Taro Kono told Reuters on Thursday.
Until then, it is likely that many will continue to drink.
"There are many times we need to talk about drinks. This type of communication is necessary to do business," said Motoki Mori, 48-year-old event production company owner, who went to a bar with his business partner.
"I don't think you can set a deadline for that."
(This story adds the name Suga in the third paragraph.)
(Reporting by Irene Wang, Daniel Leussink and Akira Tomoshige; editing by David Dolan and William Mallard)
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