President of Global Dining Inc., Kozo Hasegawa (2nd from left), and his lawyer, Rintaro Kuramochi (2nd from right). (Image via Japan Today)

Restaurant chains sue Japanese Government

On Monday, a restaurant chain operator, headquartered in Tokyo, filed a lawsuit against the Tokyo Government. The lawsuit charged the Tokyo Metropolitan Government for the business hours cut as a preventive measure against the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

The restaurant chain operator, Global Dining Inc., claimed that the order by the Tokyo Government is against the law, the constitution, and the right to freedom of business. The lawsuit by Global Dining Inc. was the first of its kind in Japan. Global Dining Inc. runs numerous well-known restaurants in Tokyo, one of which is Gonpachi, an izakaya pub famous to be the location for Quentin Tarantino's "Kill Bill" and the dinner spot for the former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and 43rd POTUS, George W. Bush.

Uniquely, Global Dining Inc only sought 104 yen in damages. What is important for them is the message, that the COVID-19 preventive measure by the Japanese Government and Tokyo Metropolitan Government has done damages and halt business and people's daily lives.

Previously last month, the revision to the COVID-19 special measures meant that the prefectures can now force businesses such as bars and restaurants to limit their operational hours under the state of emergency if they refuse to comply without essential reasons. Moreover, these businesses may see a 300,000 yen fine.

Lawyer for the Global Dining Inc., Rintaro Kuramochi, stated that such a provision has gone against the constitution for the right to freedom of business, especially if the Government is unable to provide any proof that the restaurants and bars are the ones to blame.

Moreover, Kuramochi said that the Governor of Tokyo, Yuriko Koike, neglected her duty of care by imposing the order. Koike herself claimed that the procedure was thoroughly scrutinized to match the revised law.

Previously, the state of emergency against COVID-19 was imposed in Tokyo and other prefectures. However, Global Dining Inc. was among the 2,000 establishments that refused to comply with the 8 p.m business hour cut. Global Dining Inc. then released its statement on 7 January that they refused to comply because of the insufficient subsidies and support from the authorities.

Last Thursday, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government then forced 27 restaurants, with the majority owned by Global Dining Inc, to comply with the 8 p.m business hour cut. Global Dining Inc. decided to obey until the state of emergency was lifted on Sunday midnight.

The President of Global Dining Inc., Kozo Hasegawa, stated on Monday during a press conference that the restaurant chain operator is not negligent toward COVID-19, by requiring its staff to wear masks, wash hands, and maintain social-distancing measures. Hasegawa added that so far, there has been no cluster found in any Global Dining outlets.

While the court is considering the lawsuit by Global Dining Inc., the Chief Cabinet Secretary, Katsunobu Kato, said on Monday that the order to cut the business hours up to 8 p.m is still constitutional since its purpose and restrictions remain reasonable.