Much of Japan welcomed 2021 quietly at home, alarmed after Tokyo reported a record high 1,337 coronavirus infections among the 4,519 daily number nationwide.
Although many people opted not to return to their ancestral homes for the holidays, hoping to lessen health risks for extended families, crowds were seen at some big shrines that remained open, such as Kanda Myojin shrine. Tokyo’s biggest shrine, Meiji, was closed for the night.
Thousands of people gathered at the popular scramble crossing in Tokyo’s Shibuya district, but not nearly as many as in previous years. A heavy police presence tried to keep people moving.
Shibuya Ward had decided to cancel its annual countdown event at the scramble crossing and a "countdown vision" screen was turned off at 11 p.m. By midnight, most people had dispersed as train services, that usually operate all night on Dec 31, were suspended this New Year as part of anti-coronavirus measures.
On Thursday afternoon, Tokyo Gov Yuriko Koike said at a news conference: “The coronavirus knows no year-end or New Year’s holidays.
"Please spend a quiet New Year’s with your family and stay home,” she said, switching to English for “stay home.”
She expressed concern that shopping in crowded stories and at markets was leading to a surge in infections.
There has been no lockdown in Japan, just requests for social distancing and mask wearing, as the government juggles encouraging business activity with containing health risks.
After a meeting with cabinet ministers, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said: "I would like to ask people to avoid nonessential outings in Tokyo and other areas where infections are surging.”
Asked if his government is considering declaring a prefectural or nationwide state of emergency, Suga only said, "We will make utmost efforts in preventing a further spread of infections while preserving the current health care capacity" through the holidays.© Japan Today/AP