Japanese restaurants and fish dealers struggling amid coronavirus measures

Published on
March 16, 2020

Restaurant customers in Japan are wary of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, and fish dealers are suffering weak demand and restricted shipping options due to canceled flights.

Luminous Cruising Co., the operator of one of Japan’s largest restaurant cruise ships, the Luminous Kobe-2, filed for bankruptcy protection, Japanese media reported on 2 March. The move came after many passengers on the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship contracted COVID-19 during a trip in February.

From 3 March, rotary sushi chain Hamazushi, a subsidiary of Tokyo-based Zensho Holdings, has stopped serving items on conveyor belts. Customers must now place orders using the touch panel displays installed at each table instead.

Competitor Akindo Sushiro – based in Suita City, Osaka Prefecture – reported that on 9 March, a part-time employee in its Hikami store was notified by the public health center that they tested positive for coronavirus. The employee had participated in a 16 February live music event in Osaka City, the site of a cluster infection. The employee then worked in the Sushiro’s kitchen and showed no symptoms of fever or illness. The store was temporarily closed after receiving a notification from the health center to disinfect the store.

Effective from 9 March, Japan has required a 14-day quarantine of people arriving from China or South Korea. As a result, tourism from the two countries has ceased. Tourists were a huge source of revenues for restaurants and without them, many shops are struggling to stay in business. Additionaly, as airlines have decreased the number of flights to these countries, they have less cargo hold space available to seafood shippers. Shippers of seafood and fresh vegetables have been unable to find timely air cargo options, according to local media.

Throughout Japan, events involving large gatherings of people have been canceled, including events that typically feature premium seafood products, such as graduation ceremonies and company entrance ceremonies for new workers. As a result, sales and prices of luxury foods are in steep decline. Domestic bluefin tuna in early March sold wholesale at JPY 3,000 to JPY 4,000 (USD 28.02 to USD 37.35, EUR 25.22 to EUR 25.22) per kilogram, about one-third that of an average year. The Nikkei Shimbun reports that blowfish (fugu) sales are also sharply down, as the government has requested that people voluntarily avoid crowded areas and stay home as much as possible.

Contributing Editor reporting from Osaka, Japan

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