In a dark suit, a gray-haired man in his sixties watches passers-by from a corner in Nakasu, a bustling nightlife district in Fukuoka.
He is no stranger to this intersection on Nakasu’s main street. After starting out as a bouncer in his early 30s, he now works for an exclusive club in the district. Whenever he spots a businessman who has been to the club in the past, he bows deeply in their direction in the same polite manner that has kept him busy for over 20 years.
But the novel coronavirus has drastically changed the landscape.
Pedestrian traffic on the busy street soon disappeared after the government declared a state of emergency in early April. Many restaurants and eateries resumed operations in June and there have been sporadic cases of COVID-19 infection in Nakasu since then.
The district now appears to have the worst of the crisis behind it, thanks in part to the government’s Go To Travel campaign, which has boosted domestic tourism. Even so, the man believes pedestrian traffic on the street is below half of what it was before the pandemic.
Unlike younger generations who stand out on the street, there are very few spending accounts clad in expenses visiting the area for adult entertainment or social gatherings and the like of his club.
“Before the coronavirus, I greeted more than 20 people (per day), now I only greet one person at most,” he said.
The man who has maintained close relationships with executives in the local business community and has a thorough knowledge of the hospitality industry sees the current situation in Nakasu as a crisis.
“If the current state continues, the waterhole culture may die out,” he said.
He had been working in a bar almost 30 years ago when an acquaintance of a large company told him about a good opportunity in the exclusive club.
The club has long been a place where executives from various companies could gather, using women as a social lubricant, and where a strong network of contacts nurtured through food and drink led to new business opportunities.
“It’s the companies and our venue that helped build the culture of a social hangout,” he said.
Now there are only a few business people in the club.
Within a month of the first one, which broke out in a hostess bar in mid-July, a total of eight clusters of COVID-19 infections were reported in Nakasu. Two and three cases related to Nakasu have occurred since September with no clusters reported, while Fukuoka City had registered 330 cases as of October 15.
“This is the result of the efforts of restaurants and restaurants,” said an official who was involved in the town hall’s infection control measures.
Even so, many business people have stayed away from the club. Its image may be tarnished by its association with the so-called Yoru No Machi, directly translated as Night City, but referring to nightlife entertainment establishments that are usually aimed at an adult audience.
As the pandemic spread across the country, the term was widely used by central and local governments to refer to host and hostess bars. Although circumstances of infection and prevention measures differed from store to store, all of them have been classified as yoru no machi and treated as if they represented the worst COVID-19 risk in the microcosm.
A man in his sixties who started out as a doorman in his early 30s and now works for an exclusive club stands on the corner of an intersection in the Nakasu district of Fukuoka in October. | NISHINIPPON SHIMBUN
A man in his thirties who works for an advertising agency and who frequented the club before the virus said his employer had “told us to refrain from meetings prohibiting the use of entertainment expenses”.
A senior executive at a local construction company in his sixties said that when talking to business associates, it was often said that now is the time to get away from the nightlife.
There are glimmers of hope. A large local company recently lifted a company-wide order not to visit hostess bars unless adequate measures are taken against infection. However, a male manager of the company said it would be difficult for him to visit a bar if he had told his subordinates to only visit hostess bars with anti-infection measures, considering what it would be like if he got infected.
Club Matsumoto, frequented by many in the business world, has seen a huge drop in visitors. On some days only a few customer groups visit. Shopkeeper Yasuko Matsumoto, 81, says she receives calls from repeat customers who are business people apologizing for not being able to visit the club.
“It is these words that warm my heart. I know the positions they are in right now and I’m glad they miss the place, ”she said.
Matsumoto keeps the store open to make a living for her employees and can often be seen in the store.
“I have to keep the store open, if there is a customer at all,” she said.
Nakasu was torn apart by air strikes during World War II and was home to a number of drinking spots after the conflict. Their number has now grown to over 2,300.
There were rumors that hundreds of them recently went out of business, but a local real estate company says the area has long been known for its high sales and that any decline is limited to just a few dozen.
Even so, people seem to have been shocked by the recent closure of some highly regarded and long-established exclusive clubs.
Despite the dire prospects, some Nakasu are not giving up. Minami Akizuki, 27, who had worked for eight years in a club that had closed her business, opened a new snack bar called South on October 15. She met strong opposition from people around her who said it was a reckless step in the middle of the pandemic, but she didn’t sway an inch. “Isn’t it better to have someone around you who is so energetic?” Akizuki said.
She had concerns on opening day, but a crowd of customers came to the shop, which was adorned with beautiful Phalaenopsis orchids. Its existence is only the most recent effort to create a new social meeting place in the district.
“This city taught me how to interact with customers and how important it is to be courteous,” said Akizuki. “I think this is where I belong.”
This section contains topics and topics from the Kyushu area covered by the Nishinippon Shimbun, the largest daily newspaper in Kyushu. The original article was published on October 17th.
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