What Tokyo Looked Like the First Weekend After the Lifting of the State of Emergency

The initial state of emergency for Tokyo was declared on April 7 and lifted on May 25. Even before the state of emergency was in place, many businesses were implementing social distancing rules, telework, and a reduction in face-to-face meetings. Over the past weeks, some parts of Tokyo were veritable ghost-towns compared to the normal hustle and bustle we’ve all become accustomed to.

(3:57 PM May 3, 2020 – Shinobazu Pond in Ueno Park) The normally crowded path around Shinobazu Pond was practically desolate during the state of emergency in Tokyo. Photo: Scott Kouchi

Large parks like Ueno Park were closed to stymie the flood of hanami picnic-goers in late March and early April. Even as the park reopened, the once normally lively promenades seemed eerily vacant. It might be my imagination, but showing up to a park like this when it’s empty makes you kind of think that you yourself shouldn’t be there. Just one of the psychological and social concerns that was presented by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in Tokyo.

(3:29 PM May 24, 2020 – Diver City shopping complex in Odaiba, Minato Ward) Shuttered stores in Diver City created a chilling silence in the usually lively and active shopping mall. Photo: Scott Kouchi

The combination of weeks of social distancing and a bright, sunny Saturday created an almost bizarre return to normalcy in some parts of Tokyo. For me, I hadn’t visited Yoyogi Park, Shibuya, or Shinjuku since February – possibly the longest stretch of time in my years in Tokyo without somehow ending up in one of these areas. Downtown Tokyo just becomes the de facto late-night gathering spot for many, it was almost like seeing an old friend after falling out of contact for a while. A good portion of businesses seemed to be operating per usual, but most restaurants and bars implemented a 10:00 PM closing time.

(2:02 PM May 30, 2020 – Takeshita Dori Ave. in Harajuku) With the state of emergency lifted, Tokyoites returned to the streets to enjoy a sunny weekend. Photo: Scott Kouchi

Although these pictures make it seem like all of Tokyo rushed to cram together in public spaces, there are still many, many residents practicing social distancing. After all, Tokyo is such a densely populated city, and you will find all walks of life and perspectives here.

(1:30 PM May 30, 2020 – Shibuya scramble crossing) Tokyo almost seems to be returning to normal amounts of activity. Photo: Scott Kouchi

Staying in my neighborhood in Tokyo has been a calm departure from the way I had been living in Tokyo. I used to tell people that one of the best things about living in such a big city is that you can meet so many people; friends are always having some sort of gathering; or there’s always an interesting event or exhibition to check out. But when all these were cancelled or postponed, it made me feel like I was missing something – that there was a void in my life that normally was occupied by the fast-paced, non-stop Tokyo buzz.

(3:01 PM May 31, 2020 – Ueno Park) After the lifting of the state of emergency, more and more residents are coming back to the open space to enjoy some time outdoors. Photo: Scott Kouchi

(1:40 PM May 30, 2020 – Yoyogi Park) The scene at Yoyogi Park the weekend after the lifting of the state of emergency would almost make you believe that everything in Tokyo is back to normal. Photo: Scott Kouchi

On a personal note, after experiencing a different type of life in Tokyo (for better or worse), my concept of what it means to live in Tokyo has broadened a little bit. Tokyo’s public transportation system is very convenient, and adjusting to life without using it was an interesting experiment.

(5:19 PM May 23, 2020 – Arakawa River Cycling Road) Avoiding gatherings and public transportation pushed me to explore sides of Tokyo that I had not encountered before. Photo: Scott Kouchi

Many shops and businesses are still going to be enforcing measures to prevent the spread of viruses. This includes rules such as: masks being required at all times when inside certain stores, stores limiting the number of customers, hand sanitizer provided at the entrance of many establishments, etc. Although we aren’t fully in the clear yet, hopefully the lifting of the state of emergency is a breath of fresh air to give us all hope that one day we can overcome the COVID-19 pandemic.

If you’re interested in checking out other photos of Tokyo, or to download these photos in high-resolution, head over to our Flickr page.

And, finally, a huge thanks to all the health workers working on the front-lines of the COVID-19 pandemic!