Coronavirus has taken many things from us. It stole the joy of a simple stroll outside. It devastated our financial stability. It claimed countless human lives.
Consequently, the virus has left many of us all over the world stranded at home and feeling impotent. For those of us in Japan, we would all have liked to enjoy the pleasant spring weather with friends under the cherry blossoms. That wish has flitted away along with those pink petals.
Covid-19 has dealt unfathomable damage to the Japanese tourism industry as travel has been paralyzed in these recent months. We are unable to visit our family and friends. As people suffer in isolation, the loneliness can be felt acutely at Japan’s onsen (hot spring) resorts.
Until recently, these places were known as spots where family, friends, and strangers alike gathered to heal their bodies and be at peace. The communal value of these places is incalculable.
If we were under normal circumstances and you could roam about the streets of Japan freely, you might spot a few of these marks.
This is the symbol commonly used to designate onsen in Japan.
In light of the coronavirus outbreak, however, the onsen resort town of Beppu (located in Oita Prefecture on the island of Kyushu) decided that this logo was in need of revamp.
Notice the distance between each line of steam?
On April 28, 2020, Beppu launched this logo as well as a new online campaign called &FLOW. Their goal is to encourage social distancing as well as enable people from around the world to support each other during these difficult times.
Beppu City, which boasts the largest amount of hot spring water people can enter, welcomes about 9 million visitors annually. In March alone, guests staying the night dropped by 60% and Oita Prefecture itself fell to a record low number of tourists.
On April 16, 2020, the Japanese government called for a national state of emergency. In the following weeks, Beppu’s many hot spots closed one by one. For the duration of May, Beppu’s major tourist attraction, the “Hells Tour” or Jigoku Meguri was closed. In addition, the many hot springs that are loved by visitors and locals alike were forced to close their doors. The bustling city turned into a ghost town. Though the number of coronavirus patients were relatively low in the town itself, Beppu sorely felt the absence of tourists both foreign and national.
The people of Beppu Onsen want nothing more than for its visitors to stay healthy and return in strong spirits once the coronavirus has been contained. That means making efforts to stop the spread of disease.
To take a stand against coronavirus, Beppu City urges everyone to avoid the following:
While social distancing is key, Beppu also realizes how important human connection is during these times. The city wishes to reach out to those fighting on the front lines, those whose lives have been uprooted, the devastated tourist spots and shops, and others struggling all over the world.
That is why they launched the website &FLOW, which encourages users to send supportive messages to one another in these times when we are stuck at home. Desktop and mobile users can send in messages in Japanese or English. These messages are then collected and later animated to look like onsen steam floating up and off the page.
The maximum length of each message is 41.5 characters, as 41.5 degrees is said to be the ideal temperature for onsen. And these messages are sure to warm you heart!
&FLOW also has its own twitter account so be sure to follow.
The Mayor of Beppu, himself, had this to say about the project:
It is a project that we are able to do because we are Beppu Onsen. That is, like hot springs, we will warm the world’s people. We believe the warmth of people, much like a hot spring, will heal the fatigue of quarantine. We sincerely hope that the crisis will end as soon as possible.
On May 14, Japan lifted the national state of emergency on 39 prefectures, including Oita. As of May 21, several of Beppu’s hot spots have reopened (including: Hyotan Onsen and Beppu Ropeway) with plans to reopen Jigoku Meguri in June. Other beloved Beppu spots are sure to follow suit. The fight against coronavirus is far from over, but the city is cautiously taking the necessary steps to return to its spunky self.
Many of us may not be able to heal by soaking in hot springs, but we can help each other heal through our words.
So, if you want to brighten someone’s day with some words of encouragement, or are in need of some warm words yourself, please visit https://www.41-5.jp/.
Beppu City hopes this effort will carry its fans in high spirits to the day it can welcome them back. Until then, stay safe. We are looking forward to the day we can see you all in Beppu again.