“Atypical” is typical during the days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Like every country, Japan is growing accustomed to peculiar policies and awkward workarounds as commerce and everyday activities carry on as best as possible. Fortunately, transmission remains limited throughout the island nation, perhaps owing to genetic differences or historical pathogen exposure.

Nevertheless, preventive measures will undoubtedly remain in place for the foreseeable future as infections seem primed to increase throughout the winter. Indeed, businesses and authorities have been notably innovative. Anime-inspired copper non-contact hooks are helping residents avoid touching surfaces while robot avatars are standing-in for students during graduation ceremonies.

The entertainment industry has also made some notable adjustments. Haunted houses are operating as drive-throughs to keep customers at a safe distance, and amusement parks are observing “no screaming” rules on silent roller coasters. Even Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike has made the scene; Twitter user Mose (@motulo) created a 3D game wherein the protagonist politician uses her in-game powers to break-up unhygienic public gatherings.

Awata Shrine

Awata shrine (@awata_shrine) in the Higashiyama ward of Kyoto has also been forced to adapt. The historical hill-top shrine was built before 794, the year in which Kyoto began its stint as the capital of Japan. During the Edo period, it marked the beginning of the Tokai-do road, a major centrally-administered route connecting Kyoto and Edo, modern-day Tokyo.

Like other shrines, Awata has a 手水舎 temizuya, a small pavilion complete with a fountain and reservoir. Here, visitors use a ladle to clean their hands and mouth upon entering.

On some occasions, shrines across the country decorate their temizuya with hydrangea flowers:

However, during the pandemic, a communal hand-washing facility is a clear vector for transmission. Awata shrine removed the ladles from their temizuya. Instead of adding flowers, they leased the space to some temporary tenants:

Reproduced with permission from Awata Shrine (@awata_shrine)

Shrine staff wrote in a Tweet:

“Well, what can you say? Forget adding flowers to the temizuya, we’ve invited ducks. Thankfully, it’s an enjoyable sight. (It was the shrine parishoner’s idea. But I’m not sure how long they’ll be staying.)"

Many online pilgrims had a chuckle. They responded:

  • “It would be fun to see this.”
  • “The big duck is looking this way! Now I want to go to Kyoto!”
  • “This is unique and very cute. It cleanses my heart.”

Others noted how it reminded them of a scene from the famous Ghibli anime Spirited Away.

© Studio Ghibli

The similarity is indeed striking. Either way, the whimsical site provides a minor—albeit much needed—distraction from concerns surrounding COVID-19. Hopefully, these ducks will stick around throughout the winter season.

By - Luke Mahoney.