03/11/2020, 14.56
JAPAN
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Events marking the 'triple disaster' are scaled down over virus fear

On 11 March 2011, a tsunami and a nuclear accident devastated north-eastern Japan. This morning, people who went through the tragedy met despite the cancellation of public ceremonies. Archbishop Kikuchi called for prayers, announced the cancellation of Masses in Tokyo Cathedral. Since yesterday, the authorities have reported the largest single-day increase in infections.

Tokyo (AsiaNews) – Today Japan remembered the more than 18,000 people who died or went missing as a result of the ‘triple disaster’ – devastating earthquake, tsunami and the nuclear accident in Fukushima – that hit the country’s north-eastern region on 11 March 2011.

Events and ceremonies meant to mark the anniversaries have been cancelled or scaled back as a result of concerns and fears over the developing coronavirus outbreak.

A state-sponsored memorial ceremony that had been held every year in Tokyo since 2012 was cancelled for the first time.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said that he would observe a moment of silence at 2:46pm, the exact moment the magnitude-9 quake hit the Tohoku region, Honshu Island.

Many municipalities in the hardest-hit prefectures of Fukushima, Iwate and Miyagi have cancelled or postponed their ceremonies but have set up altars where people can lay flowers.

The cancellations did not stop people from gathering at the disaster sites to remember loved ones.

In Namie, Fukushima Prefecture, the statue of a mother and child was unveiled at a ceremony held at the Ohirayama cemetery, overlooking the ocean, to commemorate victims.

At the base of the 2.4-metre-high bronze statue, an inscription reads: “Praying for the day when flowers bloom in the hearts of residents of Namie who shouldered such deep grief.”

Meanwhile, nine years on, the search for the missing goes on. At 10.30am, some 30 people, including members of the Miyako Police Station and coastguard officials gathered on the coast of Yamada, Iwate prefecture, offered silent prayers. They also dug on the beach and overturned stones, looking for clues for people believed to have been swept out to the sea.

Now people’s attention is focused on the coronavirus outbreak. Since yesterday, Japanese health authorities have reported 59 new Covid-19 cases. According to the public broadcaster NHK, this is the largest daily increase since the beginning of the epidemic.

The total number of cases now stands at 1,278, including 696 on the Diamond Princess cruise ship and 14 returnees from China. Some 19 people have died, including seven on the ship.

Yesterday Archbishop Tarcisio Isao Kikuchi of Tokyo and apostolic administrator of Niigata, announced the suspension of public Masses in the capital from 15 to 29 March.

“March 11 is the Memorial Day of the 2011 disaster in Tohoku,” writes the prelate on Facebook, “the 9th Memorial Day”. Because of “the coronavirus infection, we are not able to organize Mass and other events at the Tokyo Cathedral.”

The “Catholic Tokyo Volunteer Center (CTVC) has prepared [a] video clip [for people] to pray together tomorrow. It will be webcast at 2:20pm on 11 March. Join us” in prayer.

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