Friday Food For Thought: Japan’s response to COVID19

As those of us in the UK experience yet another lockdown in the struggle to flatten the curve of COVID amidst a desperate rollout of multiple vaccines, it can seem surreal to hear about the relative normality of life in Japan. After speaking with a friend from my undergraduate this weekend who is studying at Ritsumeikan, it’s hard not to envy how casually he discusses travelling around the country with ease for mountain climbing or enjoys wandering around an unusually tourist-free Kyoto. On the face of it, Japan seems to have weathered the virus relatively well, enjoying lax rules domestically with travel limited only internationally. However, at the start of the pandemic, many journalists and academics predicted an enormous spike in infections due to the government’s delayed response and Japan’s vulnerable elderly population. How do we then explain the low infection rates to date?

Some, like Harvard’s Professor Andrew Gordon, have attempted to explain Japan’s socio-cultural behaviour as a mitigating factor, given the culture of mask-wearing when ill, reduced physical contact with bowing over handshaking, etc. Our own Dr Nadine Willems, during her Tokyo Days feature of our initial lockdown series, commented on the political division between Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike and then-PM Shinzo Abe on levels of social restrictions, suggesting that it was the cooperation of individuals which limited the spread rather than the implementation of restrictive laws (you can catch up on Nadine’s articles in our e-Newsletter section).

What are your thoughts on Japan’s relatively successful management of COVID19? Do you believe it lies more in the culture, the healthcare system or the legal system? Let us know what you think in the comments below or in our MAIJS Forum.

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