A coastal town in western Japan is under fire for using hundreds of thousands of dollars designated for COVID-19 relief for something slightly less important — a giant squid statue. Local officials said they hoped the statue would boost tourism.
The town of Noto was given 800 million yen, about $7.3 million, from the central government in relief funds, according to local media. The aid program aimed to boost local economies, which have struggled to stay afloat during the pandemic.
The Japanese government approved a $708 billion stimulus package in December to help its economy recover, as it battles a fourth wave of infections. The nation has reported over 622,000 cases of the virus, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Noto officials used about $228,000 from the emergency funding to build the massive statue, which is 13 feet tall and almost 43 feet long, local media outlets report.
A town official said that the statue is part of a "long-term strategy" to spread the word about Noto's fishing industry and its local delicacy, squid. The statue can be used both as a photographic landmark and a playground for children.
Noto, located in Ishikawa prefecture, has had significantly fewer COVID-19 cases than other parts of the country, but has been severely impacted by the decrease in tourists. Locals expressed a desire to be consulted about how funds are used in the future.
One resident told the Chunichi Shimbun newspaper that, while the statue may bring tourists in the long future, the grant could have been used for "urgent support," such as funding medical staff and long-term care facilities. Another said that he wished locals had been allowed to offer ideas before officials spent the money.
While the grant was not designated for any specific pandemic-related expenses, some Twitter users also slammed the town for its use of the money. Given the lack of vaccine access nationwide, many considered it to be a "waste" of stimulus funding.
Tetsuji Shimoyachi, a town official, told The New York Times that $2.5 million of relief money was used for infection control measures and $1.3 million was used to promote local businesses and employment. The town "still had money left over after purchasing the squid statue."
Some critics continue to question the country's latest coronavirus efforts, as it prepares for the delayed Olympic Games this summer. Less than 2% of citizens have been inoculated.