The “State of Emergency” in Japan has seen some unusual restrictions placed on life. We’re encouraged not to travel “unless necessary”, and certainly not outside of our home prefecture. Restaurants have been told not to serve alcohol as drinking is linked to the spread of Covid. Many shopping malls and non-essential stores close at weekends.
Mitsui Outlet Park is located halfway between Kobe’s shopping heartland, Sannomiya, and the impressive Akashi Kaikyō Bridge. I’ve been there a few times, both to buy odds-and-sods, and enjoy the harbor walk and its view across the Inland Sea. It may be almost at sea level, but Osaka is still visible on a fine day.
Today’s walk brought home the impact Covid – and the measures taken to contain it – has had on Japanese retail. It’s not been bustling at the best of times – today it was eerily silent. Nothing was open, not even the restaurants. The people I saw were on the way to somewhere else. The umbrellas outnumbered humans.
Perhaps this is at it should be. Japan’s avoided the mass outbreaks that plagued Europe, and even this “fourth wave” has infection rates below what’s happening in the vaccinated UK.
There are problems with what’s going on, not least the slow rate of vaccination. I also know first-hand the problem with the testing regime – you pay for a negative result, not for a positive one, which must encourage people to stay away. Yet somehow Japan has avoided the devastation and deaths measured in the hundreds of thousands.
Signs are this latest wave has peaked and is trending downwards. With a little luck, we should see the country reopen a little in the weeks ahead.
Perhaps then the shops at Mitsui will buzz with people once more.