New Year’s Day is the biggest holiday in Japan’s calendar, but this year’s festivities have been subdued following record highs in new coronavirus cases nationwide and calls from the government to stay home.
Japan’s Emperor Naruhito appealed to the public to work together through the pandemic in a videotaped New Year’s Day address to the nation released on Friday.
“I am wishing from my heart that everyone can move forward during this hard time by supporting and helping one another,” he said in the address, which was released in place of an annual public appearance by the imperial family during the new year holidays.
The prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, also released a written statement, vowing he would “protect the lives of the people” and promising to work on “virus countermeasures and economic recovery”.
“The Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games will be held this summer,” he added, saying that preparations for the delayed events were under way.
On Wednesday, however, Tokyo’s governor, Yuriko Koike, said that the capital could face an “explosion” of cases, sparking fresh fears that the Olympics could be in jeopardy.
Only 24 hours later, Koike told the Kyodo news agency that Tokyo had 1,300 new infections, beating the previous one-day high of 949 from last Saturday. About 3,480 people have died in Japan from around 235,700 cases during the pandemic so far.
New Year’s Day festivities in Japan involves spending time with family and praying at local temples, where hordes of people wish for good luck in the coming year.
Today at Meiji Jingu, a shrine in central Tokyo, masked visitors were queuing behind tape on the ground to stay socially distant from one another.