It was Wednesday noon near a bus stop at Nakano District, Tokyo when “Help” sign appeared on the window of a French restaurant located on the third floor of a building. The word, consisted of four sheets of paper, was written in large letters to ensure that it could be seen from far away.
Though it was lunchtime, there was no customers at all. Only masked employees were busy sanitizing tables and washing dishes. “Since the outbreak of COVID-19, sales declined by around 90% compared to the same period last year,” said Omura Sekae, the owner of the restaurant. Omura came up with a plan to sell packed lunches priced around 5,000 won to office workers nearby, but it was not enough to cover monthly fixed costs of 32 million won, including rent and labor costs. For Omura, the future seems to be bleak.
An employee suggested that they be frank about the situation by expressing their difficulties to customers. Hence the idea of the “Help” sign was devised. The sign appeared to be out of place with the elegant atmosphere, but Omura wrote the message and taped it on the window. “This is no time to save face,” he said. “The survival depends on this, so I wanted to be frank and share the dire situation I faced, at least to the people waiting for the bus outside.”
In early April, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced that the government would support up to 2 million yen (22 million won) to small businesses whose sales were severely impacted by COVID-19, but applications will open on May 1. Given time delay in actually receiving the benefits, people are complaining saying that the measures are too late.
Three months have passed since the first COVID-10 case occurred in Japan on Jan. 16, but the government has yet to show coordinated response. Amid criticism, Prime Minister Abe simply repeats that “the government is doing its best” and urges to “wait a bit more.” Meanwhile restaurants including Omura’s are at the risk of closing down. “The loss gets greater everyday,” said Omura. “Please do something about it.”
“The Japanese cabinet lacks empathy for its citizens,” said an expert who attended the COVID-10 professionals meeting hosted by the government. The Japanese prime minister urging the younger people to stay home but uploading a video of Abe comfortably spending time at home is one example. Appointing the chairman of the Association of Seals, the epitome of the analog culture, as the IT and Technology minister who urges people to work from home, is another such example. Bureaucrats at the cabinet simply believing that the situation would ease once people get two masks a week are no different.