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Mid-August is a traditional time for many Japanese to leave the densely populated cities and travel to see family in rural areas. Many fear that in the absence of firmer government advice, however, those travelers may be bringing an unseen passenger — the coronavirus.

The Bon holiday period is synonymous with summer holidays, cleaning family graves and reuniting with friends and family. But with national and local officials giving conflicting signals over the risk of travel as the period approaches, the holiday threatens to boost the spread of the pandemic, as cases continue to rise across the country.

A day before many were due to travel, Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike made a belated call for residents to refrain from going to their hometowns or otherwise traveling.

“This is a special summer. I want residents to avoid trips, going to their hometowns, going out at night or traveling far away,” Koike said at a news conference. “If the situation worsens, I will have no choice but to declare a state of emergency in Tokyo.”

The advice conflicts with that of the national government, which has pointedly refrained from calling for curbs on traveling home for the holidays, even after virus cases hit daily records in many parts of the country. Osaka reported a record 225 infections on Thursday.

“We are not asking for a blanket call on travel restrictions, nor are we giving a specific direction on whether people can or should not travel during the o-Bon period,” said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga on Tuesday.

Asked Thursday if people should make up their own mind on whether to return to their hometowns during the holiday period, Suga responded, “Basically, yes.”

With cases flaring in population centers nationwide, the government’s lack of direction against travel has been met with criticism. Some regions little touched by the virus have called on people not to return, fearing the specter of infected but possibly asymptomatic young people leaving cities and transmitting the disease to elderly relatives.

First published in The Japan Times on Aug. 7.

Warm up

One minute chat about your typical summer.

Game

Collect words related to the Bon holidays, e.g., summer, family, hometown, etc.

New words

1) synonymous: closely associated with or suggestive of something, e.g., “Harajuku is synonymous with Japanese youth culture.”

2) curb: to restrain or keep in check, e.g., “We need tighter curbs on bars.”

3) blanket: covering all cases or instances, e.g., “The school has a blanket rule on dyeing your hair.”

Guess the headline

Tr_ _ _ _ during the Bon h_ _ _ _ _ _? Japan can’t get a straight answer

Questions

1) What did Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike ask people to do?

2) How did Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga respond?

3) Why are some areas worried about younger travelers?

Let’s discuss the article

1) How did you spend the Bon holidays last year?

2) If you could travel anywhere in the world right now, where would you go?

3) What are your plans this summer?

Reference

今年はいつもと違うお盆休みとなりました。地元に帰り家族や旧友と集まって過ごす、これまで定番だと思われていたありかたを見直す人が多数いたことでしょう。

各自治体と中央政府の見解が異なる中で、どうすれば良いのかは各個人の判断にゆだねられたような印象もありますが、何が正解だったのかはまだだれにもわかりません。

これからまた少しずつ涼しくなっていくであろう季節、そして来年また来る夏を私たちはどのように過ごすのでしょうか。

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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