Customers or spies? An undercover mask checks rattle restaurants in prefect eastern Japan.

Kanagawa Governor Yuji Kuroiwa, right, is seen asking a store in Yokohama’s Chinatown to cooperate with the masked meal method restaurant certification system in Yokohama’s Naka district on the 21st April 2021 (Mainichi / Junya Higuchi)

YOKOHAMA – A Kanagawa Prefectural Government system that uses customers to check whether certified restaurants are correctly enforcing “masked meals,” in which diners wear masks except when eating and drinking, has sparked controversy among restaurants, some even branding undercover inspectors ‘spies’. ”

The prefectural government can revoke the certification on the basis of the reports they receive. Although the effects of the new system are unknown due to its recent implementation, confusion is spreading among restaurants. One described it as’ over the top ‘, while another asked,’ So customers are spies now, aren’t they?

The masked meal method is intended to limit the spread of droplets, and Kanagawa Governor Yuji Kuroiwa hopes to see greater adoption of the practice as the region’s best weapon against infections.

The controversial certification system for restaurants using this method began on April 21. An amending budget bill of about 136 million yen (about $ 1.25 million), which included system costs, was proposed to the prefectural assembly in April and unanimously approved.

Applications for certification can be accepted by approximately 45,000 restaurants, including restaurants already displaying “documents for infection control initiatives”. Eligible businesses can be promoted to certified status after passing an investigation by a prefectural government contractor.

About 200 restaurants are expected to be certified. These stores would benefit from a promotion paid by the prefectural government in the newspapers and would receive enough masks made in the country to distribute to customers for about six months.

Prefecture residents publicly recruited to monitor certified restaurants will be mystery diners who will report to the prefectural government on whether the masked meal method has been observed. The results of the reports will not be sent to restaurants. If a particularly excellent initiative is observed, the restaurant will be commended and certified as a “fully implemented store”. However, if the measures are deemed insufficient, the certification may be revoked.

Residents hired as monitors will be paid 2,500 yen (approximately $ 23) including food and drink per store. The prefectural government says it has not yet publicly recruited the monitors, and has not disclosed the selection method or the numbers it will hire.

A 72-year-old man who runs a Japanese-style izakaya pub in the prefectural town of Kawasaki said that while he understood the need for careful observation of the masked meal method, he would not ask to participate because he ” cannot accept spies “at his store.

An udon restaurant manager in his 50s working near JR Kannai Station in the prefectural city of Yokohama said, “Conscientious customers will use the masked meal method on purpose, but people who don’t won’t listen, little. doesn’t matter how many times we ask them. . I don’t think they have to go as far as (sending mystery dinners). ”

One restaurant owner called the system “a waste of tax money”, while another said, “Please use it (public funds) for more meaningful things.” It’s hard to say the system is welcome.

Details of the mystery dinners were reportedly not revealed at the prefectural assembly meeting, and a prefectural assembly member said: “Why would the administration launch a system that encourages people to report incidents? others ? It will create a smothered society of people afraid of being watched. ”

When Gov. Kuriowa was asked about the concerns at a press conference to announce the concept of the system, he dismissed them and explained, “I think they’re a different way of interpreting this.” He stressed: “We will foster a trend where people are encouraged to think, ‘Let’s all do our best to observe thorough infection prevention measures and to create an environment where people can eat their meals (safe). “”

(Japanese original by Junya Higuchi and Tsumuki Nakamura, Yokohama Bureau)

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