State of Emergency
Launched in 2008, the scheme has grown from gathering 8.1 billion yen in donations to 512.7 billion yen in 2018, according to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.
It has sparked local rivalry, with towns competing to offer precious gifts, prompting the central government to limit the value of rewards.
Muroto city in western Kochi prefecture has also seen strong demand for cotton masks made with local indigo dye — available for a cool 9,500 yen.
“We started giving out the masks for donors since last year, but donations have increased since coronavirus,” city official Shinya Katsuta said.
Disposable surgical masks made with non-woven fabric — commonly worn during Japan’s flu and pollen seasons — have become extremely scarce due to high demand and a shortage of raw materials amid the pandemic.
Electronic maker Sharp, which has been producing masks for medical facilities after a government request, announced this week that individuals could also buy their surgical masks at the price of 3,000 yen for 50.