NUMATA, Gunma -- "I'm not sick. Honestly."
It's peak hay fever season in Japan, but with the novel coronavirus dominating the headlines, wearing a mask and sneezing or coughing in public can draw worried glances. Sometimes you might wish you had a sign to let everyone know they have nothing to fear.
The Numata Tourism Association in this eastern Japan city has designed a series of ninja- and samurai-themed metal badges that do exactly that. There are seven badge designs in total, four ninjas and three with a silhouette of warring states period (c. 15th-16th century) general Sanada Nobuyuki, who had a connection to the area in Gunma Prefecture. And each has a message letting everyone nearby know the wearer is not infected with coronavirus.
The masked ninja versions declare in old-timey Japanese: "It's hay fever," "It's asthma," "It's protective," and, on a more playful note, "It's a disguise." The samurai versions cover the first three of these.
Tourism association workers came up with the idea when they heard of incidents across Japan of fearful reactions to sneezing and coughing mask-wearers, and decided to do something to try to add a little warmth of feeling to the world. The badges were released but sold out, and the tourism association will put a new batch of 2,000 on sale on March 20. Each badge costs 300 yen including tax, and can be purchased at the association's tourist information center in Numata's Nishikurauchi-machi district, near the ruins of Numata Castle.
"The whole world has become very jumpy, so I hope the badges do something to alleviate that tension," commented information center head Toshio Takahashi.
Inquiries can be made at the Numata Tourism Association at 0278-25-8555 (in Japanese).
(Japanese original by Hiroshi Hata, Numata Local Bureau)