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Editorial: Japanese gov't not giving enough aid to arts, culture amid pandemic

Due to the spread of the novel coronavirus, the strained circumstances of people who are engaged in culture and the arts has become prolonged in Japan.

    A year has passed since the government first sent out an appeal to event organizers to refrain from holding large events. But last summer, performances and other events gradually resumed and audiences were starting to return -- until the second state of emergency declaration was issued at the beginning of this year.

    The government has not gone as far as to seek event organizers to shut down facilities or cancel shows. But the public has been called on to refrain from going out unnecessarily after 8 p.m., and events have been restricted to those with audiences of 5,000 or fewer people that occupy no more than 50% of a facility's capacity.

    Many organizations have taken the bold step of canceling or postponing their performances. Even when they go through with the events, groups are forced to limit the number of seats and cancel performances at night or start them earlier in the day, making them unprofitable.

    According to an estimate released by the PIA Research Institute last fall, the scale of the live entertainment market in Japan for 2020 is expected to shrink by 80% of that of the previous year.

    Public assistance cannot be characterized as adequate. In the third supplementary budget for fiscal 2020, 25 billion yen (approx. $234 million) was allocated to assistance for performances and other such events. But this assistance is apparently only available to groups that are proactively holding shows.

    If the arrangement requires that an organization pay for its expenses and be reimbursed by the government later, groups that are financially battered cannot be beneficiaries of this form of assistance. We urge the Japanese government to consider providing support corresponding to the actual state of affairs.

    The kind of assistance that is needed now are handouts that help organizations get through these tough times.

    It is unfair that while dining establishments that abide by requests to shorten their operating hours are paid "cooperation money" by the government, cultural and arts-related organizations who are "encouraged" to refrain from holding events and performances are paid nothing.

    In February, an association comprising those engaged in culture and the arts submitted a letter to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and culture minister Koichi Hagiuda, but the response the organization received from the Agency for Cultural Affairs was not one that alleviated the anxiety and concerns that the group had. It is disappointing that the government will not send out a decent message at a time when we are facing a crisis in culture and the arts.

    Culture and the arts are indispensable in enriching human activities and everyday life. Many people no doubt realized their irreplaceable value for the first time after the coronavirus epidemic took away their opportunity to come in contact with them. The fact that the online streaming market is rapidly expanding during this time when live performances are difficult or impossible is a testament to that.

    Japan's Basic Act for the Promotion of Culture and the Arts states that culture and the arts "are extremely important in molding a society that is spiritually rich and vibrant." We want to see the government's unwavering intention to protect culture and the arts.

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