On Feb. 26, Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, issued a request to the organizers of large public events, such as concerts and sports matches, asking them to consider cancelling or postponing such gatherings to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

Amid the global spread of the virus, some domestic and international artists had already begin putting off their shows in Japan. More followed in the wake of the announcement. From dome-sized performances to indie concerts, performers are debating whether to play live and, if they do, what special measures to take.

Nerves tensed up on Feb. 25 when news that the first recorded COVID-19 patient in Kumamoto Prefecture had attended a show by pop-punk band Wanima on Feb. 8 in Fukuoka. This revelation prompted the group to cancel a handful of upcoming dates, marking the first major domestic cancellations.

So far, COVID-19 concerns and potential travel advisories have had a larger impact on international acts scheduled to play in Japan.

At the time of publication, artists who have cancelled shows in Japan (most as part of an Asian tour) include Ari Lennox, Tom Walker, Nell, Temples, Brooke Candy, Kim Hyun-joong and Mac DeMarco among others. Acts that have postponed gigs include Pixies, Stormzy, Ruel and Exid. And it feels safe to say other artists are debating what to do.

“We have had a few cancellations … artists that were to have dates in Japan as part of their Asian tours that would have included Korea and China,” John Moylett of concert promoter Smash, says. “I cannot say who they are at the moment, as we are waiting to receive their statements. As always the welfare of the audience is our prime concern.”

The situation presents the biggest challenge for Japan’s live-music industry since the aftermath of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, when overseas artists canceled shows over radiation fears, with only a handful pressing on, to much love from Japanese fans and media.

Yet, for all the worry, many major concerts and events are going on. While the Japanese government has canceled official events, new government policies leave the decision to cancel shows up to organizers.

Keep 'em clean: Fans of Perfume are given advice on how to wash their hands courtesy of screens at the J-pop trio's Feb. 25 show at Tokyo Dome. | PATRICK ST. MICHEL
Keep ’em clean: Fans of Perfume are given advice on how to wash their hands courtesy of screens at the J-pop trio’s Feb. 25 show at Tokyo Dome. | PATRICK ST. MICHEL

Artists such as Jay Som and New Order are still set to play, while the Snow Machine music festival (March 1-4) in Hakuba, Nagano Prefecture, is also going ahead according to an official statement. K-pop groups Blackpink and Red Velvet performed at large venues in Fukuoka earlier in the month, while J-pop trio Perfume pushed on with its Feb. 25 show at Tokyo Dome but canceled its show at the same venue the following evening.

But many large shows are currently in limbo, such as K-pop group Twice’s Tokyo Dome gigs set for next week. It’s hard to imagine such big events canceling, though, given the loss of revenue. While future shows might be impacted — and summer festivals might see a wave of international acts backing out if the situation doesn’t stabilize — the reality is most events will go on with more precautions in place.

For the Feb. 25 Perfume performance, the venue put out extra hand sanitizer at the gates, while a pre-show image on the venue’s big screens instructed people on how to properly wash their hands. Attendees appeared to be taking the situation more seriously, too.

It’s a tricky thing, balancing public health with the need for entertainment. People’s well-being should come first, but it’s important to have an escape in times like this. So if you do opt for the concert, just make sure to take the proper hand-washing precautions.

In line with COVID-19 guidelines, the government is strongly requesting that residents and visitors exercise caution if they choose to visit bars, restaurants, music venues and other public spaces.

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