My Thoughts on Coronavirus in Japan

As of writing this, Japan has the second-most infection cases in the world right now. Personally, I’ve said my piece even in January before Japan started dealing with the cruise cases, but I wanted to use this place to really explain my thoughts on this. Particularly, why this is going to get worse if people’s attitudes about prevention don’t change.

I‘m not here to criticize authorities on this issue. While I really don’t think they’re doing a good job, I don’t think Japan is the only country that’s not doing a good job protect its citizens. It’s true that we really don’t know much about this virus to act accordingly, but it’s obvious that the Japanese government is more concerned protecting its ego than its people (sound familiar?)

But beyond the government, I feel the people itself is going to contribute to the chaos is they don’t change their old ways of thinking.

Let’s talk first what Japanese people think is effective flu prevention methods:

1. Getting the flu shot

2. Wash your hands thoroughly

3. Wearing a mask

4. Opening the window and airing out the room

5. A 5-day mandatory sick leave

6. (At schools) Shutting down the class if more than 5-10 students caught the flu

7. Covering with their hands to sneeze and cough

Some of these methods are obviously scientifically-speaking better than others, but let’s just talk about them anyway and how those practices are going to affect COVID-19 going around.

1. Getting the flu shot

There’s really nothing wrong with this method. Lots of Japanese people take really good preventative measures and make sure they pay the some odd 3000yen (varies) for their flu shot before flu season. Some companies even get doctors to come and offer to give shots in-house, which is a great way to get busy people to get their flu shot. Especially in a culture where work trumps pretty much every aspect of their lives, even family.

Obviously, the trouble comes when not everyone gets the shot for whatever legitimate reason they have (or just none at all) - they have tight budgets, they’re too busy, etc. Even in my office, about less than half of the staff get the flu shot when the doctor swings by for in-house flu shots. I mean, sure, they might have gotten it by themselves so that’s totally legit.

And people not getting flu shots isn’t unique to Japan of course, so I really have the least amount of problems with this method of flu prevention. And flu shot has nothing to do with COVID-19... So there’s nothing much more to say.

2. Washing your Hands

Now this is where it gets sticky. Japanese people are told to wash their hands thoroughly with soap and scrubing as a preventative measure. And that’s just about where it all ends.

The older you are, the less likely people seem to follow through. Young children will at least follow the adults’ instructions to wash their hands with soap, but the adults don’t seem to take their own advice. So many times I’ve walked out of a toilet and simply see people do a 1-second dip in the sink before walking out. Even in the midst of COVID-19, I am still seeing ladies walk out of bathrooms dipping their fingers in for 1 second, then walking out.

Mind you, these are toilets with soap. So don’t argue with me that a lot of Japanese bathrooms don‘t have soap, which is absolutely true. Even with soap in place, people won’t use it.

Alcohol is not exactly something they practice using, but in the midst of COVID-19, I have seen a few more places put out alcohol for customers. There are a lot of wet wipes you can buy, and Japanese people use them a lot - but you can decide if they actually disinfects or not.

Point is, if more people don’t start thoroughly washing their hands, we’re going to have a problem.

3. Wearing a Mask

This seems to be every Japanese person’s holy grail when it comes to all illnesses and allergies. My problem with this approach is that a lot of Japanese people seem to thinking these masks are made of 100% foolproof virus-blocking material, when in fact they are just paper masks that really don’t do much.

Japanese people will cough freely in these. They’ll take them on and off and reuse them. I hope you can see where the problem lies. Is it better than not wearing a mask? Well, if COVID-19 is airborne-spreading and paper masks do jackshit, then no one is safe really. I’m not sure which is better at this point.

4. Opening the Window

Oh boy, oh boy. This one is a fun one.

Yes, Japanese people will open windows to air out the room of virus. In the middle of winter. When it is still super cold outside. I’ll let you be the judge of this one.

5. 5-day mandatory day off

Not much to say here, I think this is one of the better ones. Though... if you’re as critical of the work culture here as I am, you’d wonder if people actually take these days off, or if their manipulative boss will actually force them into work or get fire/lose a promotion. You can think about this one yourself as well.

As I was writing this, a new article came out about the Ministry of Health not wanting to screen their own workers for COVID-19 because if they tested positive, their workers would have to go on break and no work will be done. That's pretty fucked up. And they wonder why the virus isn't being contained...

6. Class Quarantine

I was pretty surprised this one when I first started working here. But I like the idea of it. With the other ways Japanese people seem to deal with flu, getting the students temporarily away from each other for 5 days would be a good idea than not. It seems like a school has already started to do this.

7. Covering Cough with your Hands

Let’s think about the previous point about hand-washing. Japanese people will use their hands to cover their cough instead of their sleeves, which a lot of western countries have been taught to do. So if they cough into their hands, and they don't wash their hands properly, every Japanese person is potentially a germ incubator waiting to happen. I don't know about you, but that honestly scares me.

What do you think about the coronavirus situation in Japan?

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