Fushimi Inari-taisha did all sorts of things to keep visitors safe this New Year’s, and one may be steeped in the local culture’s velvety harshness.

Japan’s recent coronavirus infection spike has come at a very unfortunate time, since Japanese people traditionally start off the new year with a visit to a shrine or temple in early January. The most famous places of worship in the largest cities naturally attract the most visitors, and also create the largest crowds of people standing around in close proximity waiting for their turn to throw their coins into a donation box and pray for health and prosperity in the year ahead.

Those are just the sort of conditions that can lead to infection clusters, and Kyoto’s famous Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine took several steps this year to try to cut down on congestion. It prohibited food vendors from setting up stalls on the streets in and around the shrine between January 1 and 5, treated its omikuji fortune slips with anti-viral coatings, and set up large monitors reminding people to keep a distance between themselves and others, wear masks, and limit conversations.

▼ Fushimi Inari-taisha on New Year’s Day this year

As anyone who’s visited Fushimi Inari-taisha in the last few years can tell you, the crowds in the above video are remarkably sparse for what’s become one of Japan’s most popular travel attractions. “With the situation as it is, we really can’t be very vocal in saying ‘Come to the shrine,’” said a spokesperson, “but we [did what we could] to create an environment where those who did come could feel secure.”

Creating a safe environment at a facility these days depends not just on management’s policies, though, but on the behavior of visitors as well, and it looks like Fushimi Inari-taisha might have come up with an extremely Kyoto-like way to gently but ever so firmly make sure visitors kept their masks on while visiting the shrine. As part of its anti-coronavirus protocol, Fushimi Inari-taisha set up a live video stream, with the official reason being to let people see how crowded the shrine was before leaving their homes and make an informed decision about whether or not they felt safe coming…and they also put up this sign on the shrine grounds.

“Currently live-streaming on YouTube” read the top two lines. Since Japan has some pretty strict laws about posting images of people online, that’s probably a disclaimer Fushimi Inari-taisha felt it needed to make for legal reasons. But the Kyoto quotient comes in the bottom line, which says “Please wear a mask,” accompanied by a picture of the face covering.

With “please wear a mask” already on other on-site signage, it’s a little odd to repeat the request here, especially since it looks like “please wear a mask” is being presented as some sort of subset to “we’re streaming on YouTube.” But that, Twitter user @SU_Minden and a number of other commenters feel, is because the subtext here is “We’re streaming on YouTube, so if you’re not wearing a mask, the whole world will be able to see what an inconsiderate doofus you are.”

Of course, Fushimi Inari-taisha would never openly admit to such tactics, and there’s at least a sliver of a possibility that they just realized they had some extra space at the bottom of the sign and thought “Eh, may as well slap another mask reminder on there.” But remember, this is Kyoto, where there can be a hidden hard edge to such seemingly innocuous comments as “You and your friends seem to have so much fun together,” “Your wristwatch is really nice,” and “You play the piano well,” so we’re not completely ruling out that Fushimi Inari-taisha fully expected people to read between the sign’s lines.

Sources: Mainichi Broadcasting System, Livedoor News/Mainichi Shimbun, Twitter/@SU_Minden via Jin
Top image: Wikipedia/Path-x21
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