Sapporo Streetcars Don Masks
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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.
市電ご利用の際は、マスク着用にご協力ください。— 一般財団法人札幌市交通事業振興公社【公式】 (@stsp_jpn) June 2, 2020
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.
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.
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 reason why these two particular green carriages were chosen is that their headlights look like eyes.
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.
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.)
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