TOKYO - The COVID-19 pandemic dominated the news in 2020, profoundly changing the way we live and work. Naturally, the coronavirus outbreak and related topics -- from masks to social distancing, self-isolation and discrimination -- were reflected heavily in Kyodo News Plus' top 10 most-read features of the year. Here is the full list. 

10. Meet the Japan omotenashi consultant selling what money can't buy
By Mai Yoshikawa
(Photo courtesy of Luxurique)

As social distancing had us longing for human proximity and closed borders shut down global travel, this feature looked into hospitality consultant Naomi Mano's business, which goes above and beyond to fulfill requests by affluent clients who are either super rich, super picky or both.  Read the story >>

9. Japanese company turning the tables on plastic waste
By Keita Nakamura

As ocean plastic and polystyrene waste become an increasingly pressing global issue, manufacturers have begun developing durable edible tableware as replacements for disposable plates, straws and cups. Among them is Marushige Seika, a small business that has been making the shells for ice-cream filled "monaka" wafers since 1983. Read the story >>

8. What Japan's hikikomori can teach us about self-isolation
By Donican Lam
 (Photo courtesy of CLiONE and Jinofilms)

Published in April, this feature sought advice from Japan's "hikikomori," or social recluses, for hints on how to stay sane during the coronavirus pandemic as cities and regions across the globe went into lockdown. Read the story >>

7. Florists promoting flower power as coronavirus sees celebrations canceled 
By Junko Horiuchi

March, the month marking the end of the academic and business year in Japan, is usually one of the busiest times for the flower industry, with surges in demand for graduation ceremonies at schools, send-off parties and weddings. But in 2020, flower shops were compelled to take new initiatives to chase business as the COVID-19 outbreak meant cancellations of gatherings -- big and small -- nationwide. Read the story >>


6. Japan struggling to get a grip on social distancing
By Junko Horiuchi

As communities around the world found themselves compelled to hunker down in their homes, Japan's approach to social distancing in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic might seem to other nations like it is very social, and not so distant. The virus outbreak had certainly not stopped many Japanese from celebrating hanami with crowds congregating in parks, although the spring tradition of spending time under cherry blossom trees was now more strolling than sitting. Read the story >>

5. Foreigners in Japan becoming target of discrimination due to virus 


Since the outbreak of the coronavirus, there have been increasing reports that foreigners living in areas with prominent international communities in Japan are being subject to discrimination and hateful remarks. In Beppu, southwestern Japan, some hair salons and dining establishments put up signs denying entry to international students from a local university, prompting the city government to immediately set about distributing 1,500 notices to business operators reminding them that "the fight is against the virus, not people." Read the story >>

4. Japan's coronavirus entry ban disrupting lives of foreign residents 
By Ryotaro Nakamaru

Japan's virus control measure that denied entry of all foreign nationals, including permanent residents and spouses of Japanese nationals, that have traveled to any listed country within a 14-day period drew an outcry from the foreign community. Until the travel restrictions were finally loosened in September, some families were forcibly split by the entry ban and many foreign residents bore the heavy economic burden of being locked out of Japan. Read the story >>

3. Japanese customs: a guide in brave new coronavirus world? 
By Dave Hueston

In April, when scientists were still grappling with many unanswered questions about how the novel coronavirus can spread, we spoke with some experts who say customs and social habits in Japan such as wearing face masks during seasonal flu outbreaks, bowing rather than shaking hands, and removing shoes at home might play some role in hindering the transmission of the virus. Read the story >>

2. Japan's unmarried, sexual minorities forced to use foreign sperm banks 

(Photo courtesy of Rei Kakyoin)

Marriage and childbirth go hand in hand in Japan, perhaps more so than in many other developed countries, but for Rei Kakyoin, a self-identified asexual, the former was never an option. This feature looked at the legal and other obstacles faced by people like Kakyoin, couples in common-law relationships, same-sex partners and others who dream of having a child through artificial insemination. Read the story >>

1. Japanese get creative in face of coronavirus crisis mask shortages 


Desperate to protect themselves against the novel coronavirus but unable to buy face masks due to shortages when the pandemic began sweeping parts of the planet, people in Japan went to unusual lengths with DIY solutions. Read the story >>>

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Counting down our top 20 most-read news stories in 2020