Japan starts new year amid pandemic

People across Japan have celebrated the New Year amid reinforced measures to prevent the spread of the virus.

Many gathered at Cape Nosappu in the northern prefecture of Hokkaido to watch the first sunrise of the year.

A man said, "The sunrise doesn't change every year, no matter what happens in the world."

The pandemic put the brakes on the tradition of visiting a shrine overnight on New Year's Eve.

Meiji Shrine, in Tokyo, opened its gates at 6 a.m. Masked worshippers were seen keeping a meter apart from one another to toss coins into a giant offering box.

A woman said, "The staff pay attention to lines and social distancing. We also tried not to get too close to each other."
A man said, "I prayed that the coronavirus will subside quickly so we can once again have time to meet with other people."

Visitors can buy arrow amulets and good-luck charms at the shrine, but they're not allowed to touch items before purchasing them.

Department stores in Japan are gearing up to start selling special New Year bargains known as "lucky bags".
To avoid congestion, sets containing food items are sold on a different level from the food section.

Kubota Toshiki , Store manager of Seibu Ikebukuro said, "We're taking these special measures to allow our customers to spend time in our stores with peace of mind."

The department store put about 70 percent of its lucky bags on sale at the end of last year as an additional way of reducing crowds.