At one theater, the Shinjuku Wald 9, people of all ages lined up on Tuesday to buy tickets for the movie. A thermal scanner in the lobby checked body temperatures, and signs posted around the building reminded people to disinfect their hands before entering their show and to wear a mask while watching it. Regular announcements over an intercom told customers that they could drink in their seat but not eat.
No major outbreaks of the coronavirus have been traced to Japan’s movie theaters, and industry groups have tried to ease minds with studies showing that the venues are well ventilated, theoretically reducing the risk of exposure to the pathogen.
In an August poll by the market research firm Gem Standard, 84 percent of respondents said they were “reassured” by the measures taken by theaters to prevent infection. Still, almost 60 percent said they were not quite ready to head back. Another 37 percent said they were waiting for a movie worth seeing. “Demon Slayer” apparently fit that bill for many.
Japan’s entertainment industry has been hit hard by the pandemic even as the country has taken a largely laissez-faire approach to controlling the virus, situating itself somewhere between Sweden, which has been largely hands-off, and China, which locked down entire cities. (Moviegoing has sharply rebounded in China as the virus has been largely eradicated.)
In Japan, there have been no mandatory lockdowns, no fines for going without a mask, and little testing. The most extreme measure was a nearly complete closure of the country’s borders to anyone other than its own citizens, a step that has only recently begun to be eased.
Public education campaigns have emphasized the importance of wearing a mask, frequent hand washing and avoiding what officials have called the “three C’s” — closed spaces, crowded places and close contact. Across the country, people have willingly complied.
In Tokyo, there are few signs of the pandemic, except for the ubiquitous masks and bottles of disinfectant placed near doors. Rush-hour trains are packed with commuters. Coffee shops are full of people tapping away on their laptops. And diners are lining up again to get into popular restaurants.