Apparently, Japan's decision to ban people drinking in groups at restaurants and bars has finally pushed the people of Tokyo to their breaking point.
Because after an association of liquor retailers complained to representatives of Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party about a demand from a government bureaucrat that distributors stop working with restaurants who continued to serve booze during the pandemic, it looks like the government has abandoned that request.
The news was broken by the English-language media outlet the Mainichi:
The All Japan Liquor Merchants Association demanded the LDP revise the request by economic revitalization minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, who is in charge of Japan's coronavirus response, saying that his remark was "outrageous."
The association's chairperson Kiyotaka Yoshida told Shimomura that liquor retailers were being targeted and added, "There is heavy criticism in the industry (over the request). I want you to tell the central government." Shimomura apparently responded, "We recognize the current harsh conditions and will make an effort."
Though Nishimura on July 9 retracted his request for financial institutions to ensure restaurants follow the ban on serving alcohol, he has not withdrawn his July 8 administrative circular for liquor retailers, which stated, "Please suspend providing alcohol to such eateries."
The Mainichi followed up the news with an editorial accusing the Japanese government of "strong arm tactics" in trying to force restaurant and bar owners to comply with all COVID restrictions, including no longer serving alcohol until the current state of emergency ends on Aug. 22.
Tokyo is now under its fourth COVID-19 state of emergency, scheduled to run until Aug. 22. The capital's bars and restaurants have been asked to stop serving alcohol until then.
What has caused a problem is the government plans announced by economic revitalization minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, which included calls on financial institutions to pressure their clients in the hospitality industry not to sell alcohol. This provoked an angry reaction from the restaurant sector, as well as criticism from within the ruling parties. The policy was reeled back in the next day.
However, the plans also included for government bodies, such as the National Tax Agency (NTA), to demand alcoholic beverage businesses to cease dealing with restaurants serving booze during the state of emergency, and that element was not withdrawn.
Japan's pandemic special measures law allows authorities to issue orders to businesses failing to follow infection prevention measure requests, and to fine those that still do not comply.
However, there is no legal basis for calling on businesses to pressure their clients or for these demands from government agencies like the NTA.
To sum up: Tokyo residents will need to go through all the trouble of hosting the Olympics while being barred from watching any of the events live (since the government and IOC have agreed to bar spectators at all Olympic events. And they can't even enjoy a cold Sapporo at their favorite Izakaya.