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Coronavirus impacting March 2011 memorial events in Japan

Fukushima, March 4 (Jiji Press)–The spread of the new coronavirus in Japan has posed to local governments a tough question of whether to cancel ninth-anniversary memorial ceremonies for the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

With the central government considering canceling its ceremony in Tokyo slated for March 11, some municipalities have postponed or canceled their events, while others are seeking to hold their ceremonies on a smaller scale.

Usually, nine coastal municipalities hold March 2011 memorials in Fukushima Prefecture, home to Tokyo Electric Power Company Holding Inc.’s  Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, which suffered a triple meltdown following the natural disaster.

But this year, seven of them, or all except the towns of Naraha and Tomioka, have decided to scale down their events due to fears over COVID-19 infections.

Of the seven, the city of Soma will cancel a concert by local high school students during the planned ceremony. It is considering playing recorded music instead.

Meanwhile, Naraha plans to hold a memorial ceremony as usual.

“Our ceremony is an outdoor event with only 20 to 30 participants,” an official of the town said.

The Fukushima prefectural government decided to hold its upcoming ceremony without the participation of the general public or floral tributes from them. The list of guests will be narrowed down.

“It’s is a ceremony to mourn those who perished and renew our commitment to reconstruction,” Yohei Takahashi, chief of the prefectural government’s policy planning and coordination division said. “It was a painful decision.”

In Miyagi Prefecture, another of the three hardest-hit Tohoku northeastern prefectures, many municipalities decided to cancel their ceremonies while setting up stands for floral tributes. They include Sendai, the prefecture’s capital, where a coronavirus case was confirmed Saturday.

The Miyagi city of Natori, where 600 to 700 people usually attend an annual memorial ceremony, canceled this year’s event after finding it difficult to secure enough space for participants to be seated at intervals in a bid to reduce infection risks.

In Watari, a Miyagi town, a municipal official said, “We have concluded that there would be a high risk” in holding a memorial this year because many attendants would be elderly people.

By contrast, Onagawa, also Miyagi, is seeking ways to hold this year’s memorial, including by curtailing the event and increasing the space between chairs at the venue.

In Iwate Prefecture, also Tohoku, five coastal municipalities plan to hold their memorials on March 11 on a smaller scale. Others canceled their events but will set up altars and stands for flowers.

“Even though the national government has called for refraining from holding large-scale events, we cannot shut down a place where people can visit” on March 11, an official of the Iwate village of Tanohata said.

Otsuchi, an Iwate town, put off its memorial ceremony until the “bon” midsummer holiday period. But it will broadcast a memorial message from Mayor Kozo Hirano via a disaster prevention radio system March 11.

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