He’s ready to run customers around the empty streets of Asakusa, even though he knows it’s not the safest choice.

Pretty much everyone who comes to Tokyo comes to Asakusa. The neighborhood is home to Sensoji, the city’s largest and most important Buddhist temple, and seven days a week travelers, both domestic and international, flood into the district to get a taste of the atmosphere of old Japan.

▼ Asakusa in mid-February

Well, more accurately, that’s what you’ll see every day there isn’t a highly contagious deadly disease going around.

▼ Asakusa now

With the coronavirus pandemic still ongoing, many people in Tokyo are limiting their non-essential trips out of the house, and international travel concerns and restrictions mean the neighborhood’s number of foreign travelers has also plummeted. While the government has yet to order any businesses closed in Japan, Asakusa is highly dependent on tourist traffic, and with so few visitors, many local shops and restaurants are choosing not to open, turning the district into a veritable ghost town.

By way of comparison, here’s how Nakamisedori, the street that leads to Sensoji, usually looks: packed with people shopping at the souvenir stalls and munching on snacks, like the local-delicacy ningyoyaki cakes, as they make their way to the temple to offer incense and prayers.

And here’s how it looked when our Japanese-language reporter P.K. Sanjun stopped by to check on the area this week.

The emptiness is especially startling because an annual Asakusa tourism surge ordinarily takes place in late Match/early April. With the weather warming up and overseas travelers often timing their entry into Japan so that they can see cherry blossoms during their stay, right now is a critical time of year for local merchants.

However, even with most shops and restaurants closed, P.K. did encounter someone ready to get to work, if only a customer would show up. Because of Asakusa’s traditional atmosphere, rickshaw tours are a popular way to see the neighborhood, and P.K. spoke with one puller about why he was still in uniform and out on the street.

The man told P.K.:

“I’d say the number of visitors [to the neighborhood] is down by about 90 percent. We’re not getting any international travelers, and since the request from the Tokyo metropolitan government for people to stay inside, there’s been a sharp drop in Japanese visitors too.

We rickshaw pullers deal in the service industry and have close contact with our customers, but we should be OK because we work outside…that’s what I keep telling myself. But really, I know we should be voluntarily keeping ourselves off the streets. If I take too much time off from work, though, I won’t be able to buy food to eat, and that’ll kill me even before the coronavirus gets me. Really, I want to stay home and not work, but I can’t.”

With the Japanese government yet to pass any concrete legislation expanding financial aid to those being hit economically by the effects of the coronavirus outbreak, odds are the rickshaw puller P.K. spoke to isn’t the only person, nor his profession the only one, starting to feel the pinch.

Photos ©SoraNews24
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