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This week’s featured article

TOMOHIRO OSAKI, STAFF WRITER

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has quickly become an online meme following his announcement Wednesday evening that the government will distribute two cloth masks to every household in the nation, a policy many slammed as out of touch with reality.

Presiding over a COVID-19 meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office, Abe revealed a batch of measures the government would be taking to alleviate the nationwide shortage of face masks, including plans to dole out 15 million surgical masks to medical institutions across the nation next week. He also said financial support for domestic manufacturers had led to a supply of 600 million masks last month.

But it was the unexpected distribution of two cloth — therefore washable — face masks to approximately 50 million households nationwide that has left many online aghast.

They have said the proposition is a far cry from measures they truly expect of the state, such as cash handouts or bold compensation for businesses hit by government calls for residents to stay indoors, not to mention little help for households with more than two family members.

The government is set to announce next week what it says is it’s biggest-ever economic package, which is likely to include cash handouts to households and relief measures for businesses.

Abe, for his part, insisted the distribution of cloth masks, announced before the comprehensive economic package is mapped out, would be “extremely effective” in easing the ongoing shortage because, unlike surgical masks, they can be reused if washed properly with detergent.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Thursday that a cloth mask costs about ¥200 and Japan Post would directly distribute them to each letter box at households nationwide, calling the method “swift.”

But that assurance hasn’t stopped those on social media from expressing shock at what they see as a tone-deaf policy.

The hashtag #Abenomask, a play on the prime minister’s eponymous economic policy mix known as “Abenomics,” has climbed high in rankings of trending keywords on Twitter and continued to fuel conversations Thursday.

In a scathing dig, various variations of memes showing Abe being blinded by his own mask also went viral.

Article first published in The Japan Times on April 2.

Warm up

One-minute chat about wearing masks.

Game

Collect words related to your home:

e.g., spacious, cramped, family, backyard, etc.

New words

1) meme: an image, video, piece of text, etc., typically humorous in nature, that is copied and spread rapidly by internet users, often with slight variations, e.g., “Politicians can’t stumble nowadays. If someone films it, it may become a meme.”

2) alleviate: make something less severe, “The pill helps alleviate headaches.”

3) aghast: filled with shock, e.g., “When I arrived at the hospital I was aghast, it was terribly crowded.”

Guess the headline

A_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _? Prime minister’s two mask per h_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ policy spawns memes on social media

Questions

1) What was the announcement about?

2) How will masks be delivered?

3) How did people react to the news?

Let’s discuss the article

1) What do you think about the mask distribution plan?

2) Have you seen any memes related to it?

3) What do you want from the government just now?

Reference

国民がコロナウイルスの感染拡大によって受けた様々な被害に対する補償を求める中で、政府が発表した各家庭2枚ずつのマスクの支給というニュースは国内外で大きな波紋を広げました。各国が現金による生活保障をするのを見ていた日本国民は、その後に続く形となった日本でも同様の保障があるものと期待していた人が多かったのでしょう。布製マスクという斜め上の施しや家族の人数にかかわらず2枚ということは失笑を買い、多くの皮肉めいたジョークがSNS上に広がったようです。

このような危機の中、政府に補償を求める声は大きくなる一方でその財源が税金であることを考えれば、求めるものを大きくすることは将来自分たちの首を絞めることにも繋がります。政府に今何を求めるべきか、朝英語の会に参加し皆さんで話し合ってみましょう。

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