Effective April 8, 2020 at midnight Japan time, the Japanese government declared a state of emergency specifically designated for Tokyo, Osaka, Hyogo, Fukuoka, as well as the three prefectures surrounding Tokyo (Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba) initially until May 6. The declaration was made under a special measures law, which will provide each prefectural governor the legal authority to request or demand restrictions on the use of various establishments in their respective prefectures,* such as schools, nurseries, movie theaters, exhibition halls, hotels, museums, art galleries and retail stores. Certain establishments are expected to be exempt, such as supermarkets (food and hygienic products only), drugstores, gasoline stands. Railroads, roads and essential utilities are also expected to continue operations (although the operators of specific train lines and essential utilities may adjust their operations as they deem appropriate).
Unlike the shelter in place and similar lockdown measures that have been implemented in the United States, Europe and elsewhere, the measures available to prefectural governors are, with the exception of certain situations discussed below, non-compulsory in nature. There are generally no penalties for individuals or businesses. Nevertheless, the measures taken by the prefectural governors should have an impact as the Japanese public has a strong sense of moral and social obligations.
In addition, unlike various states in the United States and other countries, there is not expected to be detailed designations of “essential business” other than those broadly declared by the government or prefectural governors as the Japanese measures are largely voluntary. Businesses subject to “voluntary” restrictions will be based on each prefectural governor’s discretion (as long as it is within what is permissible under the special measures law). Accordingly, each prefecture subject to the state of emergency will have different restrictions on the use of various establishments.
Prefectural governors can compulsorily demand the sale of essential supplies such as medicinal supplies and food if the request or demand for such items is not complied with. Prefectural governors also have the authority to compulsorily use land or a particular building without the owner’s consent for use as a temporary medical facility.
The Prime Minister also announced a 108 trillion yen (almost $1 trillion) economic stimulus package which will, among other items, provide cash to qualified families (with additional cash for each child of a family) and small and medium-sized businesses (including freelancers).
*Japan is comprised of 47 subnational jurisdictions, including one metropolis (Tokyo), one “circuit” (Hokkaido), two urban prefectures (Osaka and Kyoto) and 43 other prefectures. For simplicity we refer to all jurisdictions as prefectures.
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