Japan’s Covid Paralysis

Yesterday we had 539 new Covid-19 cases in Tokyo, a new high for Tokyo (the second in three days), and a new high nationwide. Japan appears to be doing much better than many other advanced nations, and certainly is not seeing the chaos that is happening in the US.

I think Japan’s success is due in a large part not to the government leadership, but rather to cultural factors. In addition to most Japanese not having aversion to mask-wearing, most Japanese have a sense of community and commonality of purpose with other Japanese. There is nothing of the us-and-them attitude that is so prevalent in the US. In reality, there are few of “them” to other. Japan is a highly other-challenged country.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the politicians sent effective messages to indicate how serious this was and how important it is for people to follow guidelines of behavior. After the first month or so, however, things have gone awry. The messaging has been more along the lines of “as long as you follow guidelines, you can do whatever you want wherever you want to do it.” That, I believe, has resulted in the recent record high levels of infections here in Japan. The government is essentially saying that it’s ok to do anything, as long as you are careful. They even instituted partial subsidies for domestic tourism, a business that has been seriously hit by the pandemic. What this does is replace tourists from overseas (mostly China) with Japanese tourists. The dangers remain, but are suffered by the locals.

And with all this going on, Japan is still planning on holding the once-delayed Olympics. I think they are seriously hallucinating or in serious denial. Although Japan is doing fairly well (still), many thousands of athletes and support personnel (not to mention spectators) coming to Japan from countries not doing well is certainly not a smart thing to do. Japan needs to cut bait; there are no Olympic fish available this time. I realize that huge amounts of money, including bribes, have been paid to make the Olympics happen, but shit also happens, and it has happened in a major way. It is time to get out of the way of the shit on its way to the fan.

Japan has essentially been paralyzed, unable to make embarrassing decisions to correct wrong decisions. I hope this condition can be fixed before it causes any more damage.

Author: William Lise

A long-time resident in japan, I have been chiefly involved with Japanese-to-English translation and litigation interpreting for decades. I was an electrical engineer in my previous life.