In Tokyo, the inhabitants reconnect with the pleasures of “nomiya”, night bars

LETTER FROM TOKYO

At nightfall, the signs and lanterns of Nonbei Yokocho (“the alley of the drunkards”), in the district of Shibuya, in Tokyo, began to shine again. They point to forty tiny bars, where you can barely hold five or six. In Kabukicho, the capital’s large nightlife district, business is resuming and alcohol is served until late at night – this was already the case despite the state of emergency linked to the Covid pandemic -19, but now there are more customers.

In the Japanese capital, restrictions still on restaurants and bars, which are due to close at 9 p.m., will soon be lifted. In fact, they are already ignored. And alcohol begins to be served openly again. Small establishments have reopened.

After an alarming increase in contaminations (more than 6,000 cases per day in Tokyo in August), which had caused congestion in hospitals, the wave fell (less than 100 cases on October 5). The vaccination campaign, marked by a very late and laborious start, has also accelerated: nearly 70% of Japanese have received both doses. Experts nevertheless warn against a resurgence of contaminations with the onset of winter.

Economically, bars and restaurants have been the first victims of states of emergency since 2020. The most recent, which entered into force in July, prohibited them from serving alcohol and required that they close at 8 p.m. Measures more or less respected: according to a survey in August of the daily Mainichi, 40% of establishments in the capital ignored them, preferring, for those who had strong enough backs, to pay a fine and continue to offer alcohol.

Read the report: In Japan, the bistro frond

The drunkard, “an escapee from life”

As elsewhere, alcohol loosens speech, abolishes hierarchies and blows up imbibitions. All the more so in a formalist society like Japan. For an evening, the masks fall and the “exemplary” employee loses his rigidity.

Drunkenness excuses almost everything. The drunkard is “An escapee from life”, said a Japanese friend in French that was indeed off to a good start that evening. The formula with Baudelairian accents reflects what many of his compatriots think, who are most often indulgent towards these “escapees from life”. They are ignored more than greedy even if, staggering, they curse the passer-by or urinate in a corner. The drunkard, drifting and delirious, supported by his friends who are also somewhat drunk, is reasoned by the police, who try to put him in a taxi or a train – in which case he risks collapsing full length on a bench and arrive at the terminus without realizing that he had missed his station. Too late to go back, it will end up at best in a sauna open all night.

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