Viral images of naked festival prompts online fears of 'the next Wuhan'

·4-min read

Images of a “naked festival” in Japan, in which thousands of scantily-clad men pile into small temples together, have sparked fears in China that Japan could repeat mistakes made in the early stages of the coronavirus outbreak.

Japan currently has the highest number of infections outside China and images from the festival, which took place over the weekend, have reportedly been shared widely on Chinese social media, according to The Global Times, a tabloid newspaper overseen by the Chinese Government.

The paper said “netizens” were worried about “a neighbouring country with such a lack of epidemic control and quarantine awareness”. The concerns, it said, related to video footage emanating from the festival and being shared online.

Men wearing only loincloths jostle in the cold in a bid to grab two sacred wooden sticks during the over-500-year-old Saidai-ji Eyo festival at Saidai-ji temple in Okayama, western Japan, on Feb. 15, 2020. A person who gets a stick is called a fukuotoko, or "lucky man."
Men wearing only loincloths jostle in the cold to grab two sacred wooden sticks during the over-500-year-old Saidai-ji Eyo festival in Okayama, western Japan. Source: AP

“The country has already become home for the biggest cluster of infection in the world outside China,” the paper wrote Monday.

The english-language government mouth piece suggested a lack of caution exercised by the Japanese government could see Japan become “the next Wuhan”, the epicentre for the deadly coronavirus.

Outside of China, Japan has the most confirmed cases of the disease with 616, 542 of those on board the Diamond Princess docked in Yokohama.

The naked festival, or the ‘Hadaka Matsuri’, consists of upwards of 10,000 men scrambling for wooden sticks in a temple, wearing only loin clothes, known as Mawashi.

The festival has been running for over 500 years and men take part in hopes of becoming the ‘Fukuotoko’, which means ‘lucky man’, who is promised great fortune and health for that year.

Men wearing only loincloths jostle in the cold during the Japanese festival last week. Source: AAP
Men wearing only loincloths jostle in the cold during the Japanese festival last week. Source: AAP

Japan cancels major public events

Despite China’s assertion, Japan is taking major steps to prevent the spread of coronavirus. To prevent further spread of the deadly disease, Japan has scrapped the emperor’s birthday celebrations and the upcoming Tokyo Marathon.

The Imperial Household Agency announced the cancellation of Emperor Naruhito's public birthday address on February 23, which would have been his first since his coronation last year, citing “circumstances”.

Usually tens of thousands of people gather in the grounds of the Imperial Palace in the heart of Japan’s capital every year.

Well-wishers wave Japanese flags as Japan's Emperor Akihito makes a public appearance marking his 77th birthday at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo Thursday, Dec. 23, 2010.
Usually thousands gather outside Imperial Palace in Tokyo for the emperors birthday. Pictured is part of the crowd from the 2010 celebration. Source: AP Photo/Koji Sasahara

The last time the celebrations were cancelled was in 1996, when there was a hostage crisis in the Japanese embassy in 1996.

Speaking to Reuters someone with knowledge of the issue said organisers have limited who can participate in the Tokyo Marathon. Some 38,000 people signed up to be general participants this year for the March 1 race.

Instead, the event will be limited to ‘top-level competitors’, with 176 elite runners and 30 elite wheelchair athletes registered for the race.

The marathon is not the only international sporting event in Japan the virus has affected - the FIBA Asia Cup 2021 postponed a qualifying basketball game between Japan and China, originally scheduled to be held near Tokyo this week.

FILE - In this Feb. 23, 2014, file photo, thousands of runners fill the street in front of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building at the start of the Tokyo Marathon in Tokyo. Organizers of the Tokyo Marathon set for March 1, 2020 are drastically reducing the number of participants out of fear of the spread of the coronavirus from China. The general public is essentially being barred from the race.
Picture of the Tokyo Marathon in 2014. This years event has been drastically reduced amid fears of thee spread of the coronavirus. Source: AP Photo/Toru Hanai

One of Japan's biggest companies Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp have said it is urging some 200,000 employees across the company to either work from home or stagger their commutes.

NTT Data Corp, confirmed on Friday a contract employee working from one of the company’s buildings was confirmed the have the coronavirus. In response the company has order 14 other employees who were in close contact with that person to work from home.

Aussies stranded on cruise ship to be tested five times

The 200 Australians trapped on the Diamond Princess, the coronavirus-hit cruise ship stranded in Japan, will be subject to five tests for the disease.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said the first test would be on the ship, before two on the evacuation flight, another after landing at the Darwin military base before the final one at the Howard Springs facility where they are set to be quarantined.

The evacuation flight is expected to arrive in Australia on Wednesday evening or Thursday morning, depending on its final departure time.

An ambulance leaves Daikoku Futo Wharf where the Diamond Princess anchors in Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture on Feb. 18, 2020, amid the outbreak of a new coronavirus in Japan. The virus-hit cruise ship accounted for 454 people who have been infected with the disease as of Feb. 17th.
The virus-hit cruise ship accounted for 454 people who have been infected with the disease as of Feb. 17th. Source: The Yomiuri Shimbun/AP Images

The ship - which has had more than 450 cases confirmed, including at least 16 Australians - has been quarantined at the port of Yokohama for more than two weeks.

But due to the number of recent cases on the ship, they would have to undergo another two-week quarantine period at the Howard Springs facility.

There have been 15 cases of COVID-19 in Australia, with eight people now recovered and the rest in a stable condition.

With AAP

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