On Thursday morning, I visited Suigetsu Hotel in Taito, Tokyo, one of the oldest hotels with its 80-year history. Housing the author Ogai Mori’s old house that was built 134 years ago, the hotel has been considered a historic place.
Unfortunately, the hotel will close its doors on May 31. Reservations have fallen sharply since March due to the COVID-19 outbreak, resulting in a 90-percent decrease in sales last month compared to the same month last year. The hotel has made the difficult decision to leave behind 80 years of business as it could no longer cope with the maintenance fees and employees’ wages.
Regular customers paid visits to see the hotel before it closes its doors permanently. They were busy taking pictures of every corner of the hotel and the old house of the writer. “I had to make a decision quickly to minimize the loss,” said Misako Nakamura, the owner of the hotel. “It saddens me to put an end to its 80-year-old history.”
As the Japanese economy struggles with the prolonged COVID-19 crisis, some of the old standing stores have been forced to close their doors. Their closure means more than “the closure of small businesses” in Japan as they represent mastery and craftsmanship.
The first store to go was the 152-year-old “Benmatsu,” a famous bento place in Ginza that was closed on April 20. Its main customers were the actors of and visitors to the “Kabuki Theater” across the road. When the theater shut down, the restaurant immediately got the financial crunch. The sales plunged by 70 percent in March year-on-year. Despite the efforts of owner Ikai Nobuo, the fifth-generation restaurant failed to change hands.
The Japanese government has announced its plan to offer up to one million yen to business owners, but a source from “Kinsen,” a tempura place in Asakusa, Tokyo, said that it is neither enough nor realistic. Kinsen closed its doors Sunday after 117 years.
The Japanese government said that it would add four economy experts to the government advisory committee, which consists predominantly of health care experts. According to Tokyo Shoko Research, a commercial credit rating agency, 143 Japanese businesses went bankrupt due to the COVID-19 pandemic as of Thursday. The number will be much higher if combined with the closures of small local businesses. Stores with long history are facing constant threat of closing even at this moment.