Back when the debate was raging over whether or not to hold the 2020 Tokyo Olympics due to 新型コロナウイルスの感染拡大 (shingata koronauirusu no kansen kakudai, the spread of infection from the novel coronavirus), the words 延期 (enki, postponement) and 中止 (chūshi, cancellation) were heard so often that I think they now qualify as JLPT N5 vocab.

Though the authorities insisted, “中止はありえない” (“Chūshi wa arienai,” “Cancellation is out of the question”), many feared the show would not go on. In the space of a few days, the rhetoric changed. The word “ありえない” (arienai, impossible) was swapped out for the milder “避けたい” (saketai, would like to avoid), and after backstage maneuvering, 延期に落ち着いた (enki ni ochitsuita, [they] settled on postponement).

I feel like this was 中止’s breakout moment. 中止, 延期 and 休止 (kyūshi, cessation or pause) were being bandied about Japanese conversation as both 大規模なイベント (daikibona ibento, large-scale events) and 小規模なイベント (shōkibona ibento, small-scale events) such as 卒業式 (sotsugyōshiki, graduation ceremonies), 入学式 (nyūgakushiki, commencement ceremonies) and 入社式 (nyūshashiki, company initiation ceremonies) were stricken from March and April calendars.

In between 中止 and things running 通常通り (tsūjō-dōri, as usual) is 検討中 (kentōchū, under consideration). Until a few days ago, this was the case for many 入学式 in the Kanto region as school boards decided their plans on extending school closures.

Under the current 状況 (jōkyō, state of affairs), businesses continue to suffer. As my friend Takeda who runs a film production company says, “撮影休止と公開延期でうちはもう悲鳴をあげるしかない” (“Satsuei kyūshi to kōkai enki de uchi wa mō himei o ageru shika nai,” “There’s nothing I can do but let out a scream, what with suspended shooting and postponed [movie] releases”). Takeda’s woes have become a common experience shared by most independent businesses, and his phrase, 悲鳴をあげる (himei o ageru, let out a scream), is a refrain you’ll hear from many corners of Japanese life.

Both 中止 and 延期 have become acceptable — often, even commendable — actions, though only a few months ago they were pretty rare. 中止する (chūshi suru, to cancel) had a tendency to be seen as a bit of a social faux pas. The kanji it’s made up of, 中 (chū, middle) and 止 (shi, stop), mean to stop in the middle of something, and that goes against traditional Japanese notions of 我慢 (gaman, perseverance) and 頑張れ (ganbare, do your best) spirit. With regards to the Olympics, the prevailing attitude in my circle of friends was, “何年先になってもいいから中止にだけはしないで欲しい” (“Nannen saki ni natte mo ii kara chūshi ni dake wa shinaide hoshii,” “I don’t care how many years it takes, I just don’t want them to cancel it”), and the news of 来年まで延期 (rainen made enki, postponement until next year) was greeted with a sigh of relief. Sure, a postponement comes with its own set of problems but, to my friends, the worst-case scenario has been averted.

My mother used to tell me not to ドタキャン (dotakyan, cancel plans at the last minute) as it would make me seem like I was あてにならない (ate ni naranai, not to be relied on). In the era of 新型コロナウイルス, however, a person who cancels an engagement could be commended for displaying good sense in the face of further spread of the virus.

If you do happen to find yourself in a situation in which you’d like to cancel, a simple ごめんなさい、今回はキャンセルさせてください (gomennasai, konkai wa kyanseru sasete kudasai, I’m sorry, allow me to cancel this one) should do the trick. A note on nuance, 中止 is often used for events and キャンセル is more used for a person’s participation in something. To follow up on canceling, add a slightly formal コロナが終息してから会いましょう (korona ga shūshoku shite kara aimashō, let’s meet again after this coronavirus thing comes to an end) or, more casually, 落ち着いたらまた会おう (ochitsuitara mata aō, let’s meet again when this dies down).

When will this die down? Who knows. Even professional sports teams are facing 活動休止 (katsudō kyūshi, training suspensions). The word used there, 休止 (kyūshi, suspension), looks a lot like 中止, but its first kanji is 休 (kyū), which is also used in the verb 休む (yasumu, to rest). In February, a slogan was taken off the package of a popular brand of cold medicine because its tone was apparently said to heighten the risk associated with 新型コロナウイルス. It said, “絶対に休めないあなたへ” (“Zettai ni yasumenai anata e,” “For you, who can’t afford to rest”), with the implication being that it’s better to tough a cold out rather than stay at home sick — a course of action that exposes your coworkers to your sickness. Nowadays, 休 is everywhere — 休校 (kyūkō, school closure), 休講 (kyūkō, canceling of lectures), 休演 (kyūen, suspension of a performance) — and in some advice I heard on a news show the other night: “ウイルスに勝つには休養が大事” (“Uirusu ni katsu ni wa kyūyō ga daiji,” “To win against the virus, it’s important to get rest”).

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