The spread of the new coronavirus across Japan is forcing many people to temporarily abandon some of the country’s traditional customs.
Amid fears of infection, many are refraining from drinking powdered green tea from shared bowls during tea ceremonies.
Meanwhile, Kochi Prefecture on Thursday called on locals to temporarily halt the kenpai practice of passing one’s used glass to another person and pouring sake into it for the latter to drink and the henpai practice of offering sake in the same glass in return.
“Infection cases have already been reported in the prefecture,” a prefectural official said. “Although the practices of kenpai and henpai are part of established traditional culture in Kochi, we ask our citizens to (take caution).”
A similar drinking custom is seen on the island of Miyako in Okinawa Prefecture.
However, with no coronavirus cases reported on the island so far, no restrictions have been placed on otori, in which an individual delivers a short speech and participants drink awamori, the prefecture’s specialty, in turns from the same glass.
“It’s true there is an infection risk,” a local tourist association official said. “Locals hold family gatherings at this time of the year to share the otori glass to celebrate the results of school entrance exams and graduations. But people may refrain from the custom this year.”
The spread of the virus has also led to cancellations and postponements of traditional tea ceremonies for guests at tiny teahouses across Japan.
Reflecting concerns over the sharing of a single bowl of thick tea prepared by the host with other guests, some venues are offering thin tea instead, serving each guest in a separate bowl.
“Drinking from the same bowl means reaching out to understand each other. It’s a traditional culture unique to Japan,” said an official at the secretariat of the Omotesenke school in the city of Kyoto. “Worries about infection make it hard to unite our hearts.”
Omotesenke will cancel events that could raise concerns over infection even if they involve a small number of people, according to the official.
Your news needs your support
Since the early stages of the COVID-19 crisis, The Japan Times has been providing free access to crucial news on the impact of the novel coronavirus as well as practical information about how to cope with the pandemic. Please consider subscribing today so we can continue offering you up-to-date, in-depth news about Japan.