Asia News: Coronavirus Disrupts Concerts In Japan, Korea

Japan Calls For Changes In Light Of Virus Outbreak

At the end of February the Japanese government, stinging from rebukes of its handling of the coronavirus crisis, in particular its lax management of a docked cruise ship where the virus spread rapidly, issued a directive to halt or curtail large public gatherings for at least two weeks in a bid to prevent an epidemic. 

Though the directive was voluntary, most events and concert promoters, not to mention entertainment organizations and talent agencies, complied by cancelling or postponing hundreds of events that were to take place in March. 

One group that was caught off-guard by the announcement was the veteran female idol trio Perfume, whose Feb. 25 concert at Tokyo Dome went ahead as scheduled. However, the Feb. 26 show at the same venue was cancelled hours before doors opened because the government announcement was made that morning. 

The biggest news that came as a result of the announcement was that theme parks, including Tokyo Disneyland and Disney Sea, as well as Universal Studios Japan, said they would shut down until at least the middle of March. 

One well-publicized event that helped precipitate the directive was a concert at a small venue in Osaka where, it was later learned, at least three people were infected with the virus. Including the unnamed musical group performing. The venue, called Arc, had about 100 people the night in question. 

Two male staff members in their 40s apparently were infected, and one had recently been on a business trip to the northern island of Hokkaido, which has reported the largest number of infections in Japan outside of the aforementioned cruise ship. 

Hokkaido is a popular year-round tourist destination for Chinese visitors, and it’s believed that someone from the epicenter of the epidemic, Wuhan, had visited the island in December or January. In any event, a woman in her 30s attended the Arc concert and later tested positive for the virus after taking a night bus from Osaka to Ehime Prefecture on the island of Shikoku. By the time she was diagnosed she had already reported to her job and taken a business trip via airplane to the Tokyo metropolitan area. 

Though many artists and management companies in Japan have cancelled events in March in line with the government’s directive, several have refused. Alternative pop singer Sheena Ringo went ahead with large-scale concerts for her band Tokyo Incidents on February 29 and March 1. According to the Asahi Shimbun newspaper, popular theater director Hideki Noda did not suspend any of his play performances, saying that doing so would convey to his fans that he was a “selfish artist.” 

Another theater company said that if they cancelled performances they would probably go bankrupt, since they directly received government assistance, but only if they performed. 

Nevertheless, the public seemed to admire those artists who did cancel. When the guitarist for the rock band Non Stop Rabbit tweeted that they were cancelling all upcoming gigs for the time being “to protect our fans,” the message was retweeted 46,000 times and received 90,000 likes. 

A big rakugo (traditional comic storytelling) festival in Osaka was originally going to go ahead in defiance of the directive, but due to a rash of public complaints it was eventually called off. One of Japan’s biggest classical music concert organizers, Kajimoto, cancelled all concerts by local musicians and instead had ten of them perform a special six-hour internet-only concert where they also had discussions. 

On March 4, the Japan Classical Music Association held an emergency meeting to draw up comments that it would send to the government in request for tax relief due to lost business owing to cancellations.

In addition, events that were to take place to commemorate the 9th anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11 have been called off, and while the Osaka Grand Sumo Tournament will proceed as scheduled for two weeks starting March 8, it will do so without spectators. 

Foreign Acts Continue To Cancel Japan

The list of cancelled or postponed Japan concerts and tours by visiting foreign acts grows longer every day. Several artists, such as Jay Som and Omar Apollo, have shown up and played since the emergency was announced, and promoters have neither encouraged nor discouraged artists from coming to fulfill their engagements in light of the government directive, but for those concerts that have proceeded as planned most promoters have given ticketholders the option of refunds if they feel uncomfortable attending. 

Major promoter Smash Corp. at first put out a press release saying that the Foals Japan tour scheduled for the first week of March was going ahead as planned and then a few days later quickly sent out another one saying it was postponed. 

Among the many foreign acts that cancelled spring dates in the last week were Ben Harper (his first Japan tour in 14 years), Mika, Mac DeMarco, Temples, Lacuna Coil, The National, Ludovico Einaudi and Tom Walker. Other acts that have said they are postponing tours and concerts include Green Day, Avril Lavigne, New Order, Pixies, SWMRS, Ruel and Stormzy. 

But it should be noted that at press time March and April Japan tours for Bob Dylan, Stereolab, Jonas Blue, Bruno Major, Pig Destroyer, Squarepusher, G. Love and Special Sauce, Rick Astley, A-Ha, Whitesnake, Bright Eyes, My Chemical Romance, Whitney, Authority Zero, The Struts, Amorphis, Larkin Poe, Ben Watt and Louis Tomlinson are still a go. What’s more, several acts have actually announced spring tours in Japan in the past week, including Dizzy Mizz Lizzy and Pussycat Dolls.

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South Korea Largely Shuts Down Live Industry

In one of the few instances of an artist being quarantined because of the coronavirus, K-pop star Chungha announced that she was placing herself under lockdown after two members of her staff were found to be infected with the virus. 

According to Soompi news service, the singer and her team returned to South Korea from Italy on Feb. 24 and one staff member was showing signs of a fever. The group was tested and two members came up positive. Chungha herself tested negative but, in accordance with guidelines issued by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, she is required “to go on self-quarantine.” All planned activities have been suspended “for the time being.”

In any case, almost all concerts that were to take place in South Korea over the next month or so have been called off, including a big blowout by the biggest pop act in the world at the moment, BTS, who have just released a new album worldwide. However, one member of the group, Suga, has donated the equivalent of $84,000 to the Korea Disaster Relief Association to support efforts to fight the disease in his hometown of Daegu, the hardest hit city in the country. 

In response, BTS fans, known as the Army, started donating to the Association in the name of their heroes. As of March 2, the donations tallied about $330,000, most of which were refunds the Army had received for the cancelled BTS concerts.