National

Abenomask? Prime minister's 'two masks per household' policy spawns memes on social media

by 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.

But perhaps the most creative were those who parodied scenes from anime shows and Ghibli films to illustrate just how ridiculous well-known fictional families would look if they were given only two face masks per household.

An illustration showing the iconic seven-member family from Sazae-san, one of the longest-running televised anime series in Japan, and their house cat, Tama, struggling to share the two masks provided by the government immediately went viral on Twitter.

Another widely shared illustration turned a scene from the Ghibli movie “Whisper of the Heart” into a darkly humorous portrayal of heartless parents who refuse to share a pair of masks with their daughter, who sits across the table looking sullen.

A similar caricature was also born of a scene from “Spirited Away,” where main protagonist Chihiro’s parents are shown blithely ignoring their sad-looking daughter in the back seat of their car as they enjoy a ride in the safe protection of masks.

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