Turnover down 80% at half the live music clubs in Hokkaido

SPIRITUAL LOUNGE, the live music club that closed on March 20 Chuo-ku, Sapporo, late January

As the spread of infections from coronavirus becomes a long-term issue, the financial difficulties of live music clubs in Hokkaido deepen. Business has continued with thorough anti-infection measures at each venue, such as limits of 50% of capacity, as proprietors “want to protect Hokkaido’s music scene” but turnover has reduced significantly. The difficulties in dispelling the image of such facilities having a high risk of infection has meant that establishments are beginning to take the decision to close due to uncertainty as to whether or not customer turnout will return.

■ Closed for the last time on the 20th
“We endured it for almost a year but with no end to coronavirus in sight, we decided it was difficult to continue doing business,” said a disappointed looking Kawai Hideki (51), proprietor of the SPIRITUAL LOUNGE live music club in Chuo-ku, Sapporo. Since opening in March 2003, the venue has helped support Sapporo’s music scene, but closed for the last time on March 20.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, there were performances almost every night, but after infections spread the number dropped to no more than five a month. Net streaming of performances without audiences was also tried but it was not possible to make up for the income from live performances. Lots of musicians want to make a final performance, prompting Kawai to reflect on the venue being a “great place with a homely atmosphere”.

■ Cinemas selling tickets for all seats
According to the Hokkaido Live Entertainment Liaison Council (Sapporo), which is made up of music- and theater-related companies, of the 28 live music clubs in Hokkaido, half of them are concentrated in Sapporo. Under the guidelines of the government’s coronavirus measures, cinemas are already permitted to operate at full capacity, but at live music clubs – where it is assumed that customers will shout and sing in loud voices – admission is still limited to 50% of capacity.

Last year, one establishment in Sapporo was forced to close due to the coronavirus pandemic but, this March, as well as SPIRITUAL LOUNGE, one more will close for the time being. Turnover at ‘Casino Drive,’ a live music club in the city of Asahikawa in northern Hokkaido, also dropped to one tenth last year. According to the manager, Sugawara Ken, “We’ve not closed because northern Hokkaido doesn’t want to lose a concert venue, but I don’t know how long we’ll last”.

At ‘Penny Lane 24’ in Nishi-ku, Sapporo, performances have continued while obeying the ‘50% of capacity’ guidelines, but the hall – with a standing-only capacity of approx. 500 – is only admitting about 100 customers. Manager Sugawara Iori claims “If limits on capacity are to continue, it will be hard to stay in business without some form of reparation.”