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Yokohama Chinatown expresses thanks for support after coronavirus-linked racist letters

A banquet table laden with food is seen during the Ma Zhu festival celebrating the birth of the Chinese goddess of the sea, in Yokohama's Naka Ward on March 20, 2020. (Mainichi/Takehiko Onishi)
A banner carrying a message of gratitude to people for their support and encouragement of restaurant owners who received hateful letters amid novel coronavirus fears, is seen at the entrance to Yokohama Chinatown in the port city's Naka Ward on March 20, 2020. (Mainichi/Takehiko Onishi)

YOKOHAMA -- The Chinatown in this port city south of Tokyo has thanked the public for its support after racist letters were sent to restaurants in the area as fears over the spread of the novel coronavirus gripped Japan.

"Thank you to everyone. #HangInThereChinatown," reads a banner in Japanese raised at the Zenrin Gate, the busiest area of Yokohama Chinatown. The banner was put up to express the gratitude of restaurant owners for numerous messages of encouragement posted on social media following the hate mail incidents. The hashtag was chosen from among those attached to many of the supportive posts.

"We are grateful for the messages of encouragement. Our customers' support is what drives us forward more than anything else," said Nobumasa Takahashi, president of the Yokohama Chinatown Development Association, to which many restaurants and other establishments in the area belong.

The hate letters arrived at several restaurants in the Chinatown on March 3. After the restaurant owners released the content of the anti-Chinese letters online, countless words of support and encouragement poured in via social media, such as "Do not give in!" "Hang in there, (restaurant) operators," and "I'll go eat good dishes there."

According to the association, Yokohama Chinatown's shop and restaurant sales figures have plummeted to about 10% of what they are in a typical peak period. Establishments that can serve large groups were barraged with reservation cancellations, putting them in a tight squeeze.

On March 20, a prayer was offered for the end of the coronavirus pandemic during the Ma Zhu festival, held on the eastern side of Chinatown to celebrate the 14th anniversary of the opening of the Ma Zhu Miao temple.

The temple enshrines Ma Zhu, the Chinese goddess of the sea, and in normal years a portable shrine carrying the deity is paraded down the streets as part of a purification ceremony. However, the parade was cancelled this year due to the virus.

Instead, a large banquet table was set up outside the temple to perform a purification ritual for some 70 people. The temple trustees participated in the festival wearing T-shirts bearing Chinese characters meaning quelling calamities and epidemics.

"When you are down, things will always be better if you pray to god. Hope will not come unless you seek it. Each and every one of us must fight against the coronavirus," said Kensei Hayashi, 78, chairman of the temple.

(Japanese original by Nao Ikeda, Yokohama Bureau)

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