Tomonobu Inazaki, 54, born and raised in Tokyo's Nihonbashi Hamacho district, is the sixth-generation owner of a traditional "hyogu" workshop that dates back to the Tempo Era (1830-1844) during the Edo Period (1603-1867).

A hyogu craftsman himself, Inazaki's job is to frame paintings, calligraphy and other works of art, or mount them on "kakejiku" hanging scrolls and "byobu" folding screens.

Near his workshop is a business hotel of the Toyoko Inn chain, which decided to make its rooms available to people infected by the novel coronavirus but whose symptoms are mild. The purpose was to help ease hospital bed shortages due to expanded COVID-19 infections.

But as soon as the hotel's name was revealed as the first in Tokyo to put up virus-infected people, all children disappeared from the usually lively park abutting the hotel, and social media lit up with posts that fanned people's fears. Inazaki wanted to help the hotel in any way he could.

Being in charge of coordinating six neighborhood shopping streets, Inazaki sought the advice of fellow shop owners, who together came up with the idea of making flags and banners inscribed with words of encouragement for the hotel's virus-infected guests and health-care providers working there.

One of them said, "Praying for your quick recovery. You are most welcome in this community. But we feel bad that we can't really do anything to help you." Another carried this message: "Just a little more patience. Let's all join forces to get over this together!"

Both were hoisted where they could be readily seen from hotel rooms.

"These messages were also meant to reassure everyone in the neighborhood that they have nothing to fear, so they can relax," Inazaki explained.

It has been a while since the virus turned our society upside down. A prickly atmosphere continues to be felt around the nation, with people divulging names and home addresses of virus-infected individuals, and ostracizing children of hospital workers.

Strolling around the Toyoko Inn hotel, I learned that Shin-Ohashi Bridge, which spans the Sumidagawa river right in front of the hotel, is called "Otasuke-bashi" (Saving bridge) by locals. This derives from the fact that the bridge miraculously survived the devastating fires that destroyed the neighborhood when the Great Kanto Earthquake struck in 1923, and many locals took refuge from the fires on the bridge.

Characteristic of this hospitable, down-to-earth neighborhood that's home to this life-saving bridge, another message created by Inazaki and his team was, "Do get well, and please visit us again."

--The Asahi Shimbun, May 20

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.