SOE Returns: This Week in Osaka January 8th to 15th 2021

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Each week, here at Osaka.com, we bring you a selection of some of the top stories about Osaka making the local and national news here in Japan. Sometimes it’s serious, sometimes it’s funny, but it’s always direct to you, from Osaka.

Here’s a look at some of the stories hitting the headlines in Osaka this week.

SOE Declared for Osaka and Surrounding Prefectures

Local eateries, like this ramen shop, expect to be hit hard by the new SOE.

Last week, we reported that Osaka’s city and prefectural leaders decided to hold off on a fresh emergency declaration. Unfortunately, new Covid-19 infection numbers took a sharp upturn towards the end of last week. It was almost as if the virus itself acted in defiance of the governor’s statements last Tuesday. Following consultations between local and central government representatives over the weekend, a new SOE will come into effect.

The SOE declaration takes in not just Osaka but also the neighboring prefectures of Kyoto and Hyogo. Additionally, Mie, Gifu and Aichi also asked the central government to add them to the SOE declaration. Whilst the majority of new Covid-19 infections remain clustered around Tokyo, an alarming trend shows cases increasing all across the country over the past week. It remains to be seen how much impact the new SOE declaration will actually have.

This time around the SOE is far more limited in scope than the first time around. Whilst the initial SOE last spring mandated the closure of schools and many businesses, this time around it’s focused more on food and drink venues. The government has yet to produce any scientific data to support the idea that closing the bars a few hours earlier actually makes much difference.

SOE Affected Businesses to Receive Financial Support

Many restaurants are switching to take away or home delivery models amid the pandemic.

Alongside the SOE declaration, the government also announced that it will provide additional financial aid to business who comply. In exchange for closing by 8pm, bars, restaurants and other such venues qualify for up to 60,000 yen per day to cover loss of revenue. Additionally, one-off payments of 400,000 yen are on offer to business that supply these venues. For example catering suppliers, equipment providers and so on. In order to qualify for this payment, businesses need to prove that their revenue has dropped by more than 50% based on previous years’ figures.

The government also raised the amount that self-employed individuals can apply for in government support to 200,000 yen. Many business owners have criticized the amounts as being insufficient. They also believe the government should have planned all this out ahead of time before declaring the new SOE. One Osaka bar owner, speaking anonymously was scathing in their view of the government. They said: “The whole thing just seems so amateurish. The government knew virus numbers were going up. They knew a new SOE was probably going to be needed. Yet they did nothing until the very last minute. I am sick of politicians whose only approach to problems is ‘ignore it until it goes away’. You can’t do that with Covid-19”.

Snow comes to Osaka, Brings Minor Disruptions

Heavy snow in parts of Japan impacted trains in and out of Osaka this week.

Even by Japan’s frosty standards, this has been an unusually cold winter. It’s certainly one of the coldest this writer can remember in his time in Japan. So, it came as little surprise to see snowfall in Osaka over the past week. Many in Europe and the US see December as the coldest time of the year. However, in Japan it is usually January and February when the cold air bites the hardest. Thankfully, the impact on the city itself was minimal.

However, the heavier snow drifts that left some drivers stranded on highways in the northern areas of Japan, also ensured some delays for travelers heading in and out of the city. A number of Shinkansen trains were running late this week. This was due, not to the snow around Osaka itself, but the fact that the Shinkansen must travel more slowly as it traverses the more rural areas where snow has been accumulating for quite some time. With travel reportedly down by more than 50% thanks to pandemic restrictions over the past week, disruption to daily life has been minimal.

And Finally…

Participants in last year’s Coming of Age Day festivities.

It was the late, great Freddie Mercury, lead singer of the band Queen, who famously declared “The Show Must Go On”. And so it was the case for young adults across Osaka this week. Last Monday saw the celebration of “Coming of Age” Day. This annual public holiday is a traditional festival where young people who will turn 20 this year celebrate their “graduation” into adulthood. Current circumstances dictated that there were facemasks aplenty alongside the elegant kimono worn by those celebrating their big day.

Some more creative youngsters found ways to work the facemasks into their overall outfits, leading to a multitude of colorful combinations. Whilst some youngsters lamented the fact they couldn’t enjoy the same level of celebration their older siblings had in previous years, they made the best of it that they could. Some even pledged to do the same again next year when, hopefully, things will be back to normal. One reveler in Osaka’s Chuo Ward said: “I’m doing this again in 2022 when I can party properly. As far as I’m concerned, I’m still 19 since 2020 doesn’t count!”

We have to admire such spirit in the face of such challenging times.

That’s all for now but be sure to check back again same time next week for another round of this week in Osaka!

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