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[Corona ni Makeruna] Buddhist Counseling on Zoom, Ainu Face Masks, Social Distance Baguettes




A slogan which many have been sharing in Japan on SNS and mainstream media is “Corona ni makeruna!” It roughly translates as “Don’t let yourself be beaten by the coronavirus!” In this series, we share some of the creative ways in which people are fighting these strange times, through heartwarming projects, recipes, sports, and much much more. 



Whoever thought that Zoom could be used only for business meetings?


In Taito ward, Tokyo, at the Ryokusen-ji temple, Buddhist monk Kakuho Aoe, 43, has started using Zoom to respond to queries from believers.


The service is free in principle, and will soon be used by another 20 Buddhist monks all over the country for responding to those who seek help about their doubts and questions, regardless of their religion.


Mr. Aoe started the service, together with the company which he chairs, HR Data Labo (based in Shinjuku ward). As of May 13, there had received more than 30 inquiries.


“The work has clearly increased,” explained Mr. Aoe, all sorts of callers — from medical staff to students with no immediate prospect of going back to school — contact the temple to consult about their fears and concerns.


On May 13, a Sankei Shimbun journalist witnessed Mr. Aoe having a 30-minute conversation with one caller, concluding the session with a wide smile as he said, “I hope you feel better soon!”


Fancy consulting a Buddhist priest on your own worries? You can book an appointment on this website. 



Fabric Masks Bring Attention to Ainu Culture



Surgical masks have made international and local news in all shapes and sizes recently, along with sudden interest in their effectiveness, cost, and significant supply shortage around the world. 


But who knew that face masks could become a vehicle for cultural awareness?


Recently, the fabric masks made in Noboribetsu City, Hokkaido prefecture, have been gaining attention. Made by an embroidery club called Noboribetsu Ashiri Association, they showcase patterns associated with Ainu culture, referring to the indigenous population in the northern island of Japan.


They first came to the fore in Japan when Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga sported one of these masks.


“It would be great if, thanks to this, more people got to know Ainu culture,” said the hopeful association representative Mitsue Haga.


“I never thought he would wear it in a press conference,” continued Haga, who himself sent the masks to Mr. Suga, and was shocked to find the Chief Cabinet Secretary wearing one by watching the news. 


Since that press conference, Haga has been receiving phone calls from all over the country, asking if they can order the face masks with Ainu patterns. The demand is so great that now hopeful customers have to wait for over a month to get their orders.


The production is local, run by a handful of people, explaining the slight difficulty in dealing with the requests. Including Haga, eight people embroider the fabric masks with different patterns associated with Ainu folklore. One example is a pattern known as Moreu (tornado), and another is a cute owl. In all, there are a total of 15 patterns.


One mask is ¥850 JPY ($7.95 USD). You can buy one at the Noburitsu City Hall, but you’d better get there early because there are days when the masks sell out before the day is over.


Haga can barely contain the group’s excitement, saying, “We are very thankful, and want to respond to requests to the best of our ability.”



Social Distancing Baguettes



“Social distancing” — the practice of staying far enough away from your friends and other social contacts to avoid contagion — has become a buzzword most people can’t ignore when talking about COVID-19.


A bakery in Miyazaki prefecture has decided to take this in its stride and help its customers follow the distancing rule. A French-style bakery called Rivière in Miyazaki City has started selling one-meter long baguettes.


But there is a twist. If you buy two, you can benefit from the “Social Distancing” set, which, as it happens, is two meters worth of baguette.


Two meters is in fact the distance the Japanese government recommends people to keep between them. 


Shop employee Yuiichiro Oshikawa, 41, bakes about 10 meter-long baguettes a day, praying in this fashion for the end of the COVID-19 epidemic.


The shop began selling the baguettes on May 5, and they can also be bought online on the website “Yao Kyushu.” (Shipping is free of charge.)


If you happen to be in the area, you can also buy one-meter-long baguette for ¥1,000 JPY (about $9.28 USD).


Mr. Oshikawa explained the concept, saying, “As the state of emergency continues and people are staying at home, I thought I could try to brighten up the conversation.”



(Click here, here and here to read related articles in Japanese.)


Did you like this installment of “Corona ni Makeruna”? Do you have other stories you would like to share? Make sure to let us know on JAPAN Forward’s comment’s page or Facebook page.


Author: JAPAN Forward