Japan celebrated one of the strangest Golden Week holidays in recent history at the beginning of the month, with many resisting the urge to go outside and take advantage of the warmer temperatures in an effort to stay home and slow the spread of the new coronavirus.
The current environment surrounding the emergence of COVID-19 has forced people to come up with brand new ways of enjoying time away from work, with many of these taking place online. Deprived of a physical world outside their homes, they are searching for digital alternatives.
Some companies and organizations have taken advantage of this to promote goods and services and, while such tactics can certainly look cynical, at the end of the day consumers are just looking for a little escape from the regularity of their daily routines.
The Sumida Aquarium in northeastern Tokyo has used the current situation to help a species of garden eel that had been starting to forget what humans looked like after it closed to the public following a request from the municipal government.
Their failure to recognize humans was beginning to be problematic, as the tiny creatures would hide anytime a member of staff approached them.
So the aquarium asked people who are stuck at home to contact it via FaceTime and help reacquaint the eels with faces. The campaign was successful, both in terms of getting people to call in and in terms of attracting attention from all around the world. The aquarium also livestreamed the creatures hanging out, offering even more entertainment for the housebound.
— すみだ水族館【公式】 (@Sumida_Aquarium) May 3, 2020
Golden Week has allowed trends that were already on the rise after the first month of the state of emergency to expand further. Celebrities are hosting livestreams to connect with fans, while musicians perform to an online audience or share old concert footage for people who are unable to attend shows. Zoom has almost become an essential social hub, to the point where people have started to craft viral-ready videos that explain how to sneakily extract yourself from an online drinking party.
The real development came from physical spaces — now closed — finding creative ways to keep the nation entertained. Unko Museum put itself online, allowing visitors to check out the exhibition space from the comfort of their living room. Fortunately, the museum is able to capitalize on its quirky content, as the vast majority of other exhibition spaces aren’t able to feature poop as their main selling point.
Elsewhere, Yokohama’s Hakkeijima Sea Paradise marine park brought its dolphin show to YouTube, giving viewers a chance to experience an aquatic performance from home. Meanwhile, Shinagawa’s Aqua Park shared a penguin-centric upload just in time for the start of May.
Such online performances weren’t limited to marine parks. Yomiuriland offered people at home the chance to ride a rollercoaster via YouTube, while those craving trains — you don’t realize how much you miss them until you avoid them for more than a month — could indulge in uploads showcasing dozens of lines across the country. Anyone missing baseball could get a quick fix of yesteryear thanks to multiple Nippon Professional Baseball teams sharing older games for fans to watch, including a sizable offering from the Yomiuri Giants.
Corporate brands have also been quick to jump on the bandwagon in a bid to enhance everyone’s COVID-19 Golden Week, although it’s probably better to treat their “success” with a little skepticism. Online dating, for example, is taking off again! Kura Sushi pushed a new take-home deal, and encouraged you (or your kids) to create your own kaiten sushi store.
— 京急伊丹 (@Itami9018F) May 3, 2020
The vast majority of advertisers tried to incorporate #stayhome elements in their presentation during Golden Week, for better or for worse. While well-intentioned, they can also seem a bit cynical — a feeling that could apply to advertising all over the world right now — but it’s probably the new normal, at least for a little while. The better offerings provide a little distraction. The worst come across as being aware of global events but, at the end of the day, it’s all about peddling goods and services.
Leave it to individuals, then, to come through with the best stay-at-home ideas for Golden Week. Twitter users shared the various ways they were enjoying the time off, whether they were organizing picnics on their balconies or “veranda camping” (a trend that also enjoyed some celebration on YouTube, at least among family vloggers). Others shared special snack packages they ordered consisting of food that otherwise would have gone to waste.
It was also a reminder that, despite the recent concerns, most people seemed to be following government suggestions to stay home (or at least avoid travel). Companies and brands might be trying to capitalize on the current situation, but regular people appear to simply be trying to find ways to help curb the spread of the virus.
That … and help some eels recognize human faces again.