Just a couple of days before Friday’s opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympic Games, the government seems to be struggling to ensure Covid restrictions are followed.
In the wake of a fourth state of emergency declaration, many people across Japan seem to be flouting the rules.
In Tokyo’s entertainment districts, some bars and restaurants still openly serve alcohol and open late in defiance of restrictions which ask them not to serve alcohol and to close by 8pm.
In other cases, people find watering holes via word-of-mouth recommendation, because owners don’t wish to raise suspicions by openly breaking the rules.
One patron in a bar in Ebisu, a neighbourhood of Tokyo with a wide range of dining options, even had an Excel sheet with names of premises that open late and serve alcohol during the state of emergency.
Drinking alcohol bought in convenience stores on the street or pavement has also become common, since access to parks has been restricted under the new rules.
Alternatively, some people are taking trips outside Tokyo, to other prefectures where the rules either don’t apply or enforcement is lax or non-existent.
Much of the defiance is said to stem from mixed messaging from the government itself. In recent weeks, baseball, football and sumo events have all had crowds in attendance.
On Sunday, a 40-person reception for members of the International Olympic Committee was held, and included the prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, and the governor of Tokyo, Yuriko Koike, AP reported.
“It’s not that we are breaking the rules just because we’re against the inconsistency between politicians’ words and actions”, a Tokyoite told AP.
“But when you see such things, you might think that rule-breakers were right in doing what they’re doing”.
Meanwhile, the games, which will see over 100,000 athletes, delegates and international media descend on Japan, is going ahead, but with no crowds allowed.
And while Japan has ramped up its Covid-19 vaccination programme after a sluggish start in the first four months of this year, it lags behind most of the world’s leading economies – only 22 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated so far.
Prime Minister Suga himself has yet to receive the vaccine, even though he is in the demographic that has been eligible for one for months.