Sapporo Streetcars Don Masks

Society Guide to Japan

Masked streetcars have appeared on Sapporo’s streets, delighting children and adults alike. While carrying commuters along their routes, the trams are sharing an important message about preventing the spread of COVID-19.

Trams Toting Masks Set an Example

With the spread of COVID-19, masks have again become a necessity in Japanese daily life. Masks are also becoming common in countries where, previously, they were not commonly used. Recently, streetcars in Sapporo, Hokkaidō, have also been sporting masks to send a message about the important role they have to play.

In June, the Sapporo Transportation Service Promotion Corporation (@stsp_jpn) tweeted a request to passengers to wear masks when catching the streetcar, with a quote: “I’m wearing a mask too!”

The “quote” is from one of the ever-popular Sapporo streetcars! Although the mask seems a tad small for the tram’s big “face,” since June 3, it has played a role in encouraging the public to wear masks.

People have responded with tweets about how cute the tram looks, noting that it now appears like it has a real face. Others hoped to spot one in the streets.

Sapporo’s streetcars are a key means of transport for residents. With a history of some 100 years, they run on a loop around the inner city, from Ōdori and Susukino to the Mount Moiwa Ropeway, popular for its night views of Sapporo.

A streetcar leaves the depot for its day’s work. (Courtesy of Sapporo Transportation Service Promotion Corporation)
A streetcar leaves the depot for its day’s work. (Courtesy of Sapporo Transportation Service Promotion Corporation)

Masks are now more important than ever, so the message is certainly relevant. But why would a streetcar need one? We asked the Sapporo Transportation Service Promotion Corporation.

A Handmade Mask

Recently, the streetcar operator updated the focus of its public health promotion from coughing etiquette to urging people to wear masks. An employee suggested the idea of a mask for the tram.

The masks measure 45 by 65 centimeters, and were made by an employee from old waterworks piping and tablecloth. In all the project took seven days to plan, and one day to craft.

A masked tram in action. (Courtesy of Sapporo Transportation Service Promotion Corporation)
A masked tram in action. (Courtesy of Sapporo Transportation Service Promotion Corporation)

Only two of Sapporo’s 36 streetcars are fitted with the masks, so the chances of spotting a masked tram are slim. The odds are higher during the morning rush hour, when 26 of the streetcars are in operation. During the day, only around 15 are running. In addition, carriages are taken out of service regularly for maintenance, and the operation times of specific carriages are not scheduled.

Spotting one is a matter of luck, but trams run at approximately 7-minute intervals, so with a little patience, it should be possible. A variety of carriage models run on Sapporo’s streets, but the masks are only attached to a two types.

Headlights that Resemble Eyes

Which trams should you keep an eye out for? The two streetcars wearing the masks are the 210 model, carriage number 211; and 240 model, carriage number 241.

The 210 model is at top right; the 240 is immediately below it. (Courtesy of Sapporo Transportation Service Promotion Corporation)
The 210 model is at top right; the 240 is immediately below it. (Courtesy of Sapporo Transportation Service Promotion Corporation)

The firm maintains a variety of tram models, including several used to clear snow from the tracks in the wintry northern city. (Courtesy of Sapporo Transportation Service Promotion Corporation)
The firm maintains a variety of tram models, including several used to clear snow from the tracks in the wintry northern city. (Courtesy of Sapporo Transportation Service Promotion Corporation)

The reason why these two particular green carriages were chosen is that their headlights look like eyes.

The “bright eyes” of the tram face make the mask appear right at home. (Courtesy of Sapporo Transportation Service Promotion Corporation)
The “bright eyes” of the tram face make the mask appear right at home. (Courtesy of Sapporo Transportation Service Promotion Corporation)

Other measures being taken to prevent infection on Sapporo streetcars include opening the front and rear doors while stopped to improve air circulation and regularly disinfecting the handholds. Vinyl protective sheets have also been installed between the driver and passengers to reduce the transmission of droplets.

Passengers are also requested to wear masks, to refrain from loud conversation, to help alleviate overcrowding by staggering their commute time, and to assist with air circulation.

The Masks are a One-off

The adorable masked streetcars have gained much attention from the public and in mainstream media. They are also popular with employees, who have noticed enthusiasts waiting to photograph them.

However, once the masks become dirty, there is no intention to replace them. Consequently, it is impossible to say how long they will be in service—hopefully for a month or so.

A streetcar returning to the depot after its daily run. (Courtesy of Sapporo Transportation Service Promotion Corporation)
A streetcar returning to the depot after its daily run. (Courtesy of Sapporo Transportation Service Promotion Corporation)

Sapporo Transportation Service Promotion Corporation and other transport operators are struggling to ensure that passengers can avoid the “Three Cs” (closed spaces, crowded places, and close-contact settings)—conditions identified as increasing the risk of COVID-19 transmission. In addition, they are encouraging passengers to wearing masks, which medical experts view as a key way to enhance the effectiveness of social distancing.

Since the Japanese government lifted the state of emergency, the sense of urgency is fading, and it is increasingly common to see people no longer using masks. But the COVID-19 emergency is not over yet. Sapporo Transportation hopes that, especially where social distancing is difficult, people will follow the lead of their streetcars and wear a mask.

(Originally published in Japanese on FNN’s Prime Online on June 9, 2020. Translated and edited by Nippon.com.)

https://www.fnn.jp/

[© Fuji News Network, Inc. All rights reserved.]

train Hokkaidō Fuji News Network mask coronavirus COVID-19