Not Enough Distancing? Japan Tries Some Unusual Measures to Help Stop the COVID-19 Spread

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  • It has become common knowledge in the COVID-19 pandemic that extreme hygiene and distancing are crucial to stop spread the virus. The ways to achieve that are varied, with some common tried and tested and successful methods, as well as downright weird solutions. As all places, Japan is trying several measures, some very common, but some very unique!

    by Zoria Petkoska

    Some Common Measures

    Authorities and select companies shifted to teleworking early on and as much as possible. In addition, most schools were closed down, including most private English schools and eikaiwas. These measures have proven extremely helpful.

    As seen around the world, in Japan too shops and markets started marking waiting spots on the floor so that people wait in line with some space between them. These are not always the recommended 2 meters apart, but at least it’s a start. Shops have also shielded the cashiers with transparent nylon, in addition to mask wearing. Some shops have reduced their working hours too.

    Many cafes and restaurants are now quickly trying to do take out or delivery, many for the first time. They have also reduced their working hours. Small clinics and practices have stepped up more though, checking patients for fever at the door, requiring hand sanitation before entering and changing into disinfected slippers.

    These measures and the constant government recommendations to businesses and residents to be careful, limit going out and keep their distance have been helping. However, they are not a 100% effective, and not everyone listens.

    So, with a rising number of cases and in an officially declared state of emergency, Japan started thinking out of the box how to make people socially distance.

    Don’t Linger Under the Cherry Blossoms!

    If cherry blossom season proved anything, it was that those magical flowers are dearer than life to many! Rules be damned! And it’s hard to just put a ‘CLOSED’ sign on nature and open public spaces. Wherever they could, the local authorities closed viewing spots and cancelled sakura festivals. Even the Starbucks Reserve Roastery in Meguro closed down because it has a great view of the Meguro river cherry blossoms, but they did not want to potentially become an infection cluster.

    Still, people kept flocking to parks to see the cherry blossoms. The authorities suggested just taking a walk without stopping or sitting down, as a kind of compromise. They had guards at some places enforcing this and many parks taped over the benches so people would have nowhere to sit down.

    No tulips this year!

    Lesson learned from the cherry blossom season, when other flowers started blooming there were cruel and unusual measures coming. You are probably guessing it – it’s a bit destructive.

    The Sakura Furusato Hiroba park in Sakura, Chiba Prefecture, is a beautiful place, and their tulips were in full bloom when it was decided all of them be cut down. People were gathering there despite official recommendation to the contrary. However, at least you would be happy to hear that flowers were not savagely dumped, but donated to kindergartens instead.

    No roses either!

    Roses are cut,
    tulips snipped too,
    please put some distance
    between me and you!

    Trying to stay one step ahead of the crowds, the next measure was to nip this flower viewing business in the bud – literally. Yono Park in Saitama decided to cut off the buds of about 3000 rose bushes. Both the park workers and the residents of the area were gutted about the decision, but expressed understanding of the dire need to do so.

    National Treasures were not Spared

    The Mainichi reported that down in Yame, Fukuoka prefecture, Kyushu, a designated natural moment will have to be damaged to discourage people of going to see it. “Kurogi no Ofuji” is a huge and old weeping wisteria tree with magnificent blooms in peak during the Golden Week holiday. In addition to cancelling the annual Ofuji Matsuri festival, it was decided to cut of the flowers. Organizers explained that they came to realize that the wisteria will bloom next year, while human life lost due to infection cannot be reversed.

    Shaming the Pachinko Parlours into Closing

    People were asked not to gather in groups, especially in small and poorly ventilated areas. This meant cafes, pubs, izakayas, and especially pachinko parlours, among others. However, this was not an order, but more of a request or a strong recommendation. Not everyone heeded it, so the Tokyo Metropolitan government decided to try some public shaming, especially of pachinkos.

    In Tokyo and Osaka there was a high number of pachinko parlours defying closure, so authorities started putting their names on a website to publicly shame them for being irresponsible. However, the results are mixed. They had partial success, but it also backfired in a way, because it showed gamblers where to go if their local pachinko is closed. This actually makes them congregate in greater numbers and line up. Even more worryingly, travelling just to get to a faraway pachinko poses a risk for a possible infection spreading between areas.


    To learn more about financial support during the pandemic, you can read this article about a one time 100.000 yen payment to all residents or this article about a dozen of other ways of support (child allowance, rent support, zero interest loans and so on).

    *Featured Image from AC photo
    : AC photo/