FUKUSHIMA – The spread of the new coronavirus has put local governments in a tough spot over whether or not to cancel annual memorial ceremonies for the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami.
With the central government considering canceling its ceremony in Tokyo, some Tohoku municipalities have already postponed or canceled their own events. Others are seeking to hold ceremonies on a smaller scale.
Nine coastal municipalities hold March 2011 memorials in Fukushima Prefecture, home to Tokyo Electric Power Company Holding Inc.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, which suffered a triple meltdown following the disaster.
But this year seven of them — all except the towns of Naraha and Tomioka — have decided to scale down their events due to fears over the virus that causes COVID-19.
The city of Soma will cancel a concert by local high school students during the planned ceremony. It is considering playing recorded music instead.
Naraha plans to hold its memorial ceremony as usual.
“Our ceremony is an outdoor event with only 20 to 30 participants,” a town official said.
The Fukushima Prefectural Government has decided to hold its upcoming ceremony without the participation of the general public or floral tributes from them. The guest list will also be scaled down.
“It’s a ceremony to mourn those who perished and renew our commitment to reconstruction,” said Yohei Takahashi, chief of the prefectural government’s policy planning and coordination division. “It was a painful decision.”
In Miyagi Prefecture, another of the three hardest-hit Tohoku prefectures, many municipalities decided to cancel their ceremonies but have set up stands for floral tributes. Sendai, the prefecture’s capital and where a coronavirus case was confirmed Saturday, is among them.
Natori, where 600 to 700 people usually attend an annual memorial ceremony, canceled this year’s event after it failed to realize a plan to allow participants to be seated farther apart in a bid to reduce infection risks.
In Watari, a municipal official said, “We have concluded that there would be a high risk” involved in holding a memorial this year because many attendees would be elderly people.
By contrast, Onagawa is still trying to find ways to go ahead with this year’s memorial, including by curtailing the event and increasing the space between chairs at the venue.
In Iwate Prefecture, five coastal municipalities plan to hold their memorials on March 11 on a smaller scale. Others canceled their events but will set up altars and stands for flowers.
“Even though the national government has called for us to refrain from holding large-scale events, we cannot shut down a place where people can visit” on March 11, said an official of the village of Tanohata.
Otsuchi has put off its memorial ceremony until the Bon summer holiday period. But it will broadcast a memorial message from Mayor Kozo Hirano, via the disaster prevention radio system, on March 11.
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