Asia: Japanese Promoters Decline Government Requests For Closure

Saitama Super Arena
Saitama Super Arena
– Saitama Super Arena

Japanese Promoters Decline Government Requests For Closure

Several weeks ago, the Japanese government asked promoters and other organizers of concerts and sporting events to cancel or postpone them if they were apt to attract more than a certain number of people in light of the coronavirus epidemic that is sweeping the world. Most organizers have complied, despite severe damage to their bottom lines, but some continue to ignore the request.

One organizer in the latter group put on a K-1 mixed martial arts contest at the Saitama Super Arena north of Tokyo on March 22, attracting 6,500 fans. The promoter said that it was taking appropriate precautions against the spread of the virus. Nevertheless, the governor of Saitama Prefecture, Motohiro Ono, told local media that he had requested several times that the event be called off. The prefectural government owns Saitama Super Arena.

The organizers of the K-1 World GP refused the request, saying that they reduced the number of available seats from 15,000 to 6,500, handed out surgical masks to all those in attendance, provided thermometers at the entrance so they could take their body temperatures and kept all doors open to facilitate ventilation in the venue.

In addition, a representative of the event organizer told the Asahi Shimbun newspaper that everyone who entered the arena was obliged to write their names, addresses and telephone numbers on their ticket stubs so that the organizer could trace any routes of possible infections. Unlike many other promoters who have carried out events following the government directive, this one did not offer refunds to anyone who elected not to attend.

The reaction on social media was fast and harsh, with many people saying that the authorities should have stepped in and stopped the event. Generally speaking, government organs in Japan, whether they be local or national, have made social distancing a voluntary practice, though the governor of Tokyo has said that if the number of infections suddenly goes up she may implement a lockdown of the city.

So far, the infection rate in Japan has remained unusually low, though some critics say that is only because the authorities are limiting the number of tests being carried out so as not to complicate preparations for the Tokyo Olympics, which have since been effectively postponed until sometime in 2021.

In related news, a number of theaters in Tokyo have reopened following a two-week moratorium on performances implemented by the local government, even though authorities have said that venues should remain closed. Parco Theater, one of Tokyo’s oldest drama theaters, had been closed for renovations for several years and reopened last January, only to be told to close again with the onset of the virus pandemic. On March 20, the theater launched a Japanese language version of Peter Shaffer’s “The Royal Hunt of the Sun” starring Hollywood star Ken Watanabe that was scheduled to open seven days earlier. The month-long run of the play has been sold out since late last year.

As with the Saitama Super Arena event, thermometers and hand disinfectants are available at the entrance and the doors are left open for ventilation. In addition, a nurse is on hand and the intermission is extended from 15 to 25 minutes to prevent congestion in the rest rooms.

On the same day, a Japanese production of the Broadway musical “Sunset Boulevard” opened six days later than originally planned at the Tokyo International Forum. In order to discourage close contact, no food or drink is being sold in the venue, there is no special smoking room and every other seat in the auditorium is kept empty. Announcements asked patrons to refrain from conversing with one another, even during breaks.

However, most theaters have remained closed, even after the initial two-week period was over.

Venue-Born Outbreak Ended

On the Japanese concert front, the Osaka Prefectural government announced March 19 that an outbreak of infections traced to four live music venues in the prefecture had “ended.”

In all, 83 persons living in 16 prefectures had been infected with the coronavirus after attending concerts at the four venues, and several dozen others had been infected after coming into contact with these persons. It is still considered one of the largest clusters of coronavirus outbreaks in Japan so far. However, Osaka health authorities say that no new infections related to the cluster have occurred since March 12.

Since the outbreak was first discovered on Feb. 29, the prefectural government aggressively followed up on people who had attended the concerts in question, testing some 150 people in the process. The outbreak’s peak came on March 8, when 10 more people tested positive. The prefecture managed to contain the outbreak by publicizing the names of the venues and when it was believed that infected persons had been attending or working at concerts. Other prefectures cooperated in the campaign.

Modern Sky Exec Talks How Wuhan Festival Industry Navigated COVID-19

In an interview with MusicWeek, Modern Sky UK chief Dave Pichilingi explained the Chinese music market’s “innovative” response to the coronavirus crisis.

Since the virus was first discovered in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019 thousands of concerts have been cancelled, including international shows by the likes of Stormzy, Khalid, BTS, Green Day, Slipknot and Avril Lavigne. Modern Sky is China’s biggest festival promoter, and as the cancellations mounted, it has managed to keep its brand running through streaming of past events on video sharing platforms, so that housebound fans can watch.

In addition, housebound artists have had an outlet to entertain their fans in ways that are now being mimicked by artists in the West. Almost all these streaming events are free.

Pichilingi, who runs Modern Sky’s UK and US operations, told MusicWeek, “They found lateral ways … to cope with it. Modern Sky China has over 150 artists signed to their label and those artists, like everyone else in China, are confined to their apartments. We’ve been generating content of them performing in the bath with their masks on, on their balconies and so on just to keep people lighthearted.” Pichilingi adds that he himself has tried to import the model to use with his own artists in the UK.

“If I were to offer any advice to colleagues and peers and people doing festivals in the West, I would look at ways that you can entertain your audiences without having to put them in a field, because that might have to happen.” He adds, however, that many smaller Chinese presenters, such as clubs, have already gone out of business.

Chinese authorities are now reporting that the worst of the epidemic seems to have passed in China, though some experts are warning that a second wave of infections, sparked by people coming to China from abroad, could happen.

Meanwhile, the concert business remains on hold. Archie Hamilton, managing director of Shanghai-based music promoter Split Works, which has yet to move into livestreaming, told IQ Magazine, “We have a while longer until things open up properly.”

At present, Split Works is thinking about booking shows for November. Tommy Jinho Yoon, president of South Korea’s International Creative Agency, told the magazine that things are “calming down” but “the Covid-19 madness is not completely over yet … we are anticipating and hoping that the majority of this gets settled down by May or June.”

Matthew Lazarus-Hall, senior vice president of AEG Presents Asia-Pacific division,  says that while Asia does seem to see the light at the end of the tunnel, the fact that the rest of the world is just entering that tunnel will mean it may be a long time before foreign acts return to the region. “I anticipate that this situation will continue for many months,” he told IQ, “with everyone rescheduling tours until the back half of the year, and then maybe longer.”