Earlier this year, at an Upper House meeting, Finance Minister Taro Aso stated that his country’s relatively-low Covid-19 mortality rate and overall management of the pandemic is due to “the superiority of its people.” In what eventually became a heated discussion, he argued that it’s the “mindset” that separates the Japanese people from the rest of the world, and by this, he primarily referred to their tendency to follow the rules and have a consideration about others without even being asked to.

Leaving Aso’s infamous arrogance and condescending nature of speaking to people aside, for those who are well familiar with Japan, it’s fair to say that he’s got a point. No one has to tell the Japanese people to wear masks when outside — this comes naturally to them not only because they want to protect themselves, but also because they don’t want to harm others. Unlike in some other countries, not many people here are angered for being asked to cooperate in reducing the spread of the virus. It’s also a rare sight to see groups taking to the streets to publicly express that they will not comply with the restrictions of having to wear masks — or practice proper hygiene for the sake of everyone’s safety. 

Until recently, that is. 

Amid rapidly rising new coronavirus infections across the country, a group of anti-maskers claiming that restrictions imposed to the public to stop the spread of the coronavirus are unnecessary, has emerged in Tokyo. Inspired by politician and YouTuber Masayuki Hiratsuka, leader of the Popular Sovereignty Party, the group is popping up in various locations in Tokyo sans masks or any other protection against the virus, holding placards that read they “want to get infected” or that Covid-19 and the 3Cs are “fake news.” Among the participants in the last demonstrations were young mothers with babies in tow.

Translation: This is shameless as there are so many people who have died (because of Covid-19). I wonder if these people successfully caught the virus last week (after the gathering). 

The most widely publicized of these events — dubbed “Cluster Festivals” and “Cluster Demos” — occurred on August 9 in front of Shibuya Station. Apparently the third of its nature, the gathering of unmasked participants lasted for over three hours, during which Hiratsuka himself held several speeches — and sang, too — asking people to “wake up” and realize that the pandemic is all “just a performance.”

Hiratsuka is recognizable by many as one of the candidates in the most recent Tokyo Gubernatorial Election this year, during which he campaigned with a slogan, “Coronavirus is just a cold.” His campaign didn’t get him far in the election but he has continued his active anti-Covid public restrictions campaign on YouTube, by posting videos of himself visiting various locations in Japan without wearing masks. Along the way, he has built a significant group of followers who agree with him — to the point that they are willing to participate in his unmasked events, exposing themselves and many others to a potential danger of contracting the virus.

Translation: People in China are also laughing at (us). This is a total shame for Japan. [The image shows Hiratsuka’s campaign poster that reads ‘Coronavirus is just a cold.’] 

The August 9 protest was followed by another campaign initiated by Hiratsuka in which he invited fellow Covid-deniers to hop on the Yamanote Line, one of Tokyo’s busiest public transportation means, again, without masks. The purpose, Hiratsuka explained, was to make passengers with masks “feel stupid” for wearing them.

Social media users who got alarmed by the demonstration plans, started warning others to stay away from Yamanote Line around the time the gathering was to take place. The hashtag #ClusterFestival (#クラスターフェス) started trending on Twitter with photos of Hiratsuka’s group circulating the web in many warning messages.

Thankfully, despite speculations that dozens were to join the Yamanote Line “hijack,” photos on social media revealed that Hiratsuka’s supporters were a much smaller group. 

 Translation: #ClusterFestival They’re on the train. [Ed: The signs on the T-shirts read: “Wake up, people, coronavirus is fake news.”]

Yet, despite the widespread criticism on social media, the group of anti-maskers is gradually expanding. On August 21, Hiratsuka uploaded a new over 30-minute-long video on his YouTube channel, to announce details of the “Fourth Cluster Festival.” In the video, he reflected on the past gathering in Shibuya, saying that his event suffered from “a number of sabotage attempts” followed by death threats addressed to him. He brushed off those laughingly, announcing that he’d still carry on the event.

Similar demonstrations are also being organized in other cities well, including Nagoya and Osaka, two regions that are also seeing rapid increase in infections. 

Translation: “A scary demonstration was about to start, so I took off.” 

People have reacted on social media by not hiding their outrage with the organized events, with some openly wondering why the police are not responding. Unfortunately, however, Hiratsuka and his followers are not technically breaking any laws as it is not illegal to not wear a mask in Japan, nor is to hold public events. 

Translation: Hey, if it’s a cold, still wear a mask. 

The only sane action we can take to oppose these events is by staying away from their participants — and wearing masks for the sake of our own and the public’s safety. 

Featured image: Twitter user @Roy_Endart