They’re the heart and soul of Japanese nightlife.
But now the country’s traditional izakaya pubs face their biggest crisis.
Social distancing has the whole business model in peril.
For decades izakaya made money packing office workers into cozy or even cramped drinking dens.
Now more people are staying home, and there’s less space for those that do venture out.
Bears Corporation runs a chain of such establishments, including an upscale one in a key Tokyo business district.
Boss Tadao Nakashima say it’s never been harder to make money:
"I've been in this business for 24 years…”
After 24 years in the business, it’s worse, he says, than the global financial crisis, or even the aftermath of the tsunami in 2011.
Social distancing has cut seating capacity his by a half.
Customer numbers are less than a third of this time last year.
Nakashima sees little chance of an upturn later in the year, fearing a second wave of infections.
One customer sums up the mood:
"I'm limiting how much I spend on drinking with friends. We don't get together as much as before, but I do want to see my close friends. So I try to meet up with them just a few times a month, and spend money then.”
Bears Corp has started doing takeaways, and bought a van to use for street food sales.
Bars around the world will be facing similar dilemmas.
But many, at least, will have more space to play with, than Japan’s izakaya.