Sitting on the balcony yesterday evening, I asked Duncan why he was living in Japan. It is not usually a question I would ask outright, but recently, he seems to have rather hardened in his irritation – you might even called it a kind of calcified, internalized fury – about the general reaction to the current pandemic here (which this country only slowly seems to be opening its eyes to; it has been beyond exasperating). He will roll his eyes, or look straight ahead of him in a way I am not sure that I have ever seen before, when asked about the general attitudes and lack of action taking place in these perturbing, maddening; terrifying times.
He thought about my question quietly for a moment and then calmly gave a list of reasons why he loves living in this country: the first one being, quite sensibly, that ‘our life is here’. That is true. It was never any part of any general plan to move to this part of the world, but it happened, and it worked. The refinement, the finesse, he said. The politeness. The general respect. The unbelievable levels of safety (something you can truly never, ever take for granted: until you have experienced this, you cannot imagine what it feels like). The sheer excitement of the cities. The incredible food. The gentleness. The surroundings here in Kamakura. Nature, the ancient culture. The open-mindedness (you could also call it permissiveness, or tolerance – how else do you think we can walk around the way we do sometimes at night in Tokyo without anything ever happening? The responses are almost unanimously joyous and gleeful: there is no Judaeo-Christian moral judgment). These were just his first, throw-away ideas of why we do like living here; I could add many more (the classical culture; the weird, manic cyber- subcultures, the sheer, visual, aesthetic pleasure we derive from floating through Japan enough to sustain us for many years still to come). ‘But I really hate the work culture’ he said, looking at me firmly. And this, despite the fact that his own school is comparatively very mindful of the wellbeing of its staff and students and nurtures a generally positive environment.
He is not just thinking of himself though. He is thinking of all the brainwashed fools – sorry, loyal company employees, that have been continuously going into work on buses and trains in the last few critical weeks despite the government’s ‘request’ that social contact be reduced by 80% in order to save the country from a catastrophe ; a very ineffectual plea when people are given an implicit choice whether to work under such an ‘edict’ in a endemically workaholic culture such as this one (the government apparently does not have the legal right to enforce the kind of lockdowns being experienced in other countries, since the Allies post World War II set up a deliberately very liberal constitution to avoid repeating any nationalistic military dictatorships such as the Emperor Hirohito), all leading to this bizarre, truly ambiguous situation in which there is a State Of Emergency while there isn’t a ‘state of emergency’; pachinko parlours – vile slot machine and pinball arcades, hotbeds of infection, the domains of the chronically addicted, drop outs who queue up outside them every day in huge droves right now despite the risk of the coronavirus to play deafening automated machines sat right next to each other in hideously smoky environments (the smell when you walk on by one of these places!) their quickminded fingers constantly smearing the screens, always inhaling the same, foetid air……………largely remain open (all the government will do is print the names of such rule-bucking establishments in order to ‘shame’ them, often to no avail – the pachinko honchos, probably in cahoots with the yakuza, couldn’t care less, and the government needs the huge revenue they get from them in the first place); restaurants are still open and being patronised (because how many salarymen know how to cook here?) ; couples and families are still happily out and about – albeit in waning numbers, it was reported today, as people finally come to realise the severity of the situation. Just. Yet it always seems that many – most, even – are pretending that nothing is happening, or at least they are looking that way on the surface. ‘We are Japanese, so we are stoic. We have great hygiene. We are above all of this and will not be affected by it in the same way as other countries’ was Duncan’s sarcastic appraisal yesterday evening of the situation. I would agree: I would even say there is a fatalistic ‘if it happens, it happens’ samurai-ish suicide dream packed somewhere in there; a ‘shoganai’ – there’s nothing I can do about it resignation, or else a deeper unwillingness to sacrifice the daily sacrifices in the name of an unseen virus when the pressures to conform in the workplace are so strong that they can override the very real fears that people must have somewhere, locked and bolted deep inside.
But do they? Really? It’s hard to tell. Cycling back from the local shops to buy some sundries for mealmaking for the next couple of days yesterday afternoon, I was again baffled, and immediately angered, by the complete lack of social distancing occurring; customers crowding round outside the meat shop to buy home made croquettes now it is Golden Week and families are off together ( I wanted some too, but was put off straight away and desisted); most were wearing masks, but there was still no real sense of urgency or needing to stand away from each other; locals milling; no hand sanitisers used by the shopkeepers (I did, quite boldly, make the suggestion in one place; the lady at the organic vegetable grocer’s, whose produce we categorically rely on – really delicious, fresh produce – made a wry unnn when I said this to her, looking at me slightly dryly from behind her paper mask as though I were questioning the levels of her personal hygiene); I know the lady in the bread shop is rather out of it these days; dotty, forgetful, still wearing her winged, liquid eyeliner and teased up thinning beehive that went out of fashion in the mid-sixties, but I had expressly said I didn’t want a plastic bag in an bid to reduce physical contact; I don’t want my purchases to be manhandled, preferably – in a dreamworld, not even touched; having assembled the things I wanted, I was about to deposit those items in my rucksack but the old dear did have to thoroughly fondle the chocolate with her fingers trying to locate the price tag (she never has any idea how much anything is); the same at every other shop, where we could be picking up the virus from everything we eat. We don’t know what to do: The alternative: cycle forty minutes into town, a busy commuter hub, to bigger supermarkets, with crowds of people in even closer proximity, and a much higher chance of infection – at least up here at the top of the hill in Imaizumidai it is marginally better, or start to order groceries online (have you been doing this?). We have no choice – where else are we going to get food? We have to eat. Even the hapless pizza delivery boy the other night kept dropping his change and re-handling everything and passing it on – there were no attempts to stand away as I opened the door: as I handed over the yen to him from my wallet we practically kissed.
Riding home, yesterday, I passed by the well-renowned tempura and soba restaurant which is thirty seconds from our house – one of the most delicious meals you could ever have is there for our delightment virtually every weekend; the place is justifiably famous, and people come from miles around to have the homemade buckwheat noodles and incredible mixed vegetable kakeage. But now? Although part of me feels a bit guilty that we haven’t been going recently – of course I want to support local businesses – they rely on customers to keep going – a stronger part of me selfishly just simply does not want to go into a restaurant. Any restaurant. I feel turned off. Sickened at the thought of it (don’t you?) In almost all countries, they are all closed in any case, so you can’t go out and eat even if you want to. But not here. They close at 8pm rather than 11pm, as though the virus only comes after you after dark, like a virological vampire. Yesterday, in the street I saw a group of seven or eight middle aged men emerge from the premises of the soba-ya and they were all maskless, the restauranteur included; jolly, close together, faces up close, clapping each other the back, having a whale of a Golden Week party gathering, physically close and touching – and I despaired. What is it going to take to make these people realize?
(THE CHRONIC HOSPITAL SCENARIOS! ! )
To look at the situation simply, and rationally, is to feel your chest contracting in stress. The fact is – corroborated by the prime minister and every reliable news agency here – that the rate of infection in Tokyo has increased ten fold over the last four weeks, and the country is running out of hospital beds (per capita it has half the number of ICU units as Italy does). We all know that the reason that Germany has a far lower death rate than most other countries is because of the number of intensive care facilities and ventilators it has amassed; Japan has far fewer. There have been numerous reports of very sick patients being turned away from hospitals, unable to breathe; ambulances circling around for hours trying to find a willing emergency department to take them in; like other countries, the doctors and nurses are crying out for surgical masks, gloves, protective equipment – and this is one thing I will honestly never understand : how the richest countries in the world: the US, the UK, Japan, Italy, aren’t able to provide the basic necessities for their heroic medical staff in these terrible times; why they can’t just jump up production – it is literally beyond my intelligence to grasp why this could be so difficult.
Or to let people work from home. Do you know that I am, to my knowledge, the only person in my company who has been refusing to go in to the workplace? Everyone else, unless they have family members that have been infected, has been going in; commuting. This means that when I return, I will be even more of a pariah than I already was (no, I was never a pariah as such, just someone always ‘outside’ of everything; removed, except for when I am in the classroom). I will possibly be seen as weak, scared; a coward, when my instinct tells me that I am the opposite in my resistance: I was brave to stand up for my right to try to not get infected, particularly when, if caught by the disease, I probably won’t be able to get into a hospital in any case. By negotiating with the top bodies, I have managed to reach a compromise situation in which I am able to record lessons at home, for the time being at least, with my borrowed video camera, which is what I have been doing these last few weeks; something I have still to acclimatise to but which is getting better as I get used to talking into a camera lens and not physical students in attendance (right now I have two weeks off, as does most of the country, for Golden Week, the time when people traditionally travel to see their parents or leave the country or go on trips and fill up all the famous places, like Kamakura (the other day a couple we sometimes bump into walking their dog said that the famous viewing platform near our house overlooking the beautiful Hansōbo and Kenchōji temples was thronging with about thirty eager Japanese tourists………. …..the government is imploring people not to do this; every morning we have an announcement at 10:00am over the loudspeakers by the Local Resident’s Association stating that the ‘infections of the novel coronavirus are increasing. Please stay at home’, but it is often to no avail. The illogic of it all is mystifying; physically painful to contemplate.)
(recent office workers going about their ‘corona-free’ days in Tokyo, about 45 minutes by train from our local station:: : : : : : is this your own personal idea of ‘social distancing’ ?)
I am praying that more people here will start to comply and take real heed. Reports say that the popular hotspots in Tokyo were significantly less crowded over the weekend compared to January and February – when the virus was already present but nobody gave a damn whatsoever – with the exception of parks (in our local recreational areas and children’s playgrounds, families are also all out together – no social distancing! ; the concept itself somehow just isn’t taking off; it is impossible for people to take it on……………….why?) They are standing as close as they always would. Kids are all running around laughing and squealing and playing in the sand as they always do; yes, the bigger supermarket we cycled down to the other day did, finally, have a system approximating every other country’s idea of reducing physical contact: shop clerks standing glumly behind plastic screens to avoid ‘aerosol droplets’ ; plastic markers on the floor delineating where each person should stand – probably one metre apart, though – not two; the pictures of social distancing in other countries look like photographs from another planet. It is somehow unfeasible here, in a collective society, a group-oriented mindset where to stand two metres apart would be to look ludicrous. ‘Selfish’. But it is a start, anyway. And it might, when I am in an optimistic mood, be enough to prevent what some grim forecasts say could be 400,000 infections soon if things don’t actually get properly turned around (though for some reason I feel that those predictions are exaggerated, not that I am an expert. Or maybe I just can’t handle thinking about such a dreadful situation) There are already talks of a ‘total collapse of the medical system’ – an expression I am not very fond of, and which strikes terror into my heart; like you, I have read about the symptoms, and the intubation needed for severe cases, and the extremities of the body going black if you can’t get sufficient oxygen to them – if you can even get into a hospital here there are so few beds. It does not sound much like much of a summer picnic to me, and makes my determination to try and stay here at home for as long as humanly possible until the situation begins to improve a little bit – and we can be safer – all the more hard-headed.
As usual, everything here is complex. Nothing is ever simple. You never really know what people are thinking. How afraid they are, or are are not. I have experienced this before, after the Great Tohoku Earthquake in 2011, a truly catastrophic triple disaster with a devastating tsunami and nuclear meltdown that left the entire population very shaken, but which was met with great (at times mind-bending) equanimity and mental strength that amazed me; people simply refused to be undone by it; were determined, at core level, to present a brave face to the world. I was both deeply awed, and flummoxed by it at the time; I will never forget it. That said, the current global challenge is surely different. In being ‘stoic and hardworking’ – some of my colleagues have been travelling to and from Tokyo, the viral epicentre, to the workplace, where the teachers have still been having daily meeting crowded together in the staff room (!) with no real distance between them at all – I heard, from my source, they even closed the plastic sliding windows, in the staffroom, as they usually would, to prevent students from hearing confidential matters – except there were no students; this was pure force of habit, and where I differ: oh yes ! You can be sure, oh you can be sure, that, no matter what the consequences were, I would leap up – fuck everybody – and dramatically pull those windows open so fast they would possibly even break or fly off their hinges as I cannot under any circumstances put up with such idiocy, no matter the reactions of my more self-contained, ‘dignified’ colleagues who just grin and bear it. It perplexes. Oh, how it perplexes.
I am aware, as I always am here, that there are layers of compulsion, reasons for certain actions and behaviours that I am sometimes not consciously aware of. Like a societal onion, the layers are removed; a deeper layer revealed. I learn. I take in. I understand. It makes sense, in the context. While certain failures are undeniable – I was already spewing acid on here a long while ago about the useless reaction to the Diamond Princess quarantine in Yokohama at the end of January and the beginning of February (WHY. DID IT TAKE THEM. SO LONG. TO FUCKING DO SOMETHING? Why did they just release the infected passengers into the public transportation system? It was beyond, beyond comprehension. STOP! I HAD PROMISED MYSELF I WOULDN’T GET TOO RILED UP HERE; I was trying to keep it calm and measured! !!!! ); but why are there all these half-assed, half-baked measures that go against common sense and global objective reason in combatting the spread of this fucking virus?)
AAAAAAGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHH – excuse me while I scream and blow my head off. But no, as D says, this is Japan, and you just have to accept that you can’t do anything about it. The Japanese have their ways. We just have to keep going with it. You live here. You reap the benefits, the advantages: you have to go with the flow. There are things you perhaps have not considered: for example, I read in an article in the Japan Times that the correlation between unemployment and suicide is so great here – deaths have already been increasing a lot on the railways of Tokyo, people leaping to their deaths on the tracks despite the lower numbers of passengers – that the government has to seriously weigh up the risk of suicide and social breakdown against the risk of death from the virus. Though complete loss of income is obviously a traumatic event for any human being, a study has shown that the prevalence of mental illness and self-harm when connected to the loss of work and the presumed loss of dignity that ‘failure’ entails in Japan is in direct proportion to the seriousness of the economic malaise; for many people here, they are their work, so when small or middle-income businesses close down and those that rely on this money to stay afloat go under, so, often, do their owners. It is a spiritual death. According to this study, there is no comparable tendency in Spain and Italy. Though the economic distress will be no less appalling, perhaps people in those countries value time with their families or at home more, or at least do not feel that their intrinsic worth, their value as a human being, lies in the job that they do day to day. One thing I know unambiguously; mine most certainly does not.
60 responses to “THE BAFFLING BEHAVIOUR IN JAPAN : : : ON CORONAVIRUS, ‘DISTANCING’, AND THE CRIPPLING ‘AMBIGUITY’”
The one thing living in South Asia for 15 yrs has taught me: In terms of human behavior & choices, culture trumps religion, educaton, reason, logic, law, and common sense.
It absolutely does. Well put!
Is this not true of other countries as well? Or can more scientific ‘objectivity’ take over? I don’t know. I mean in America, the cultural predilection for gun culture, the hatred of government, and love of ‘freedom’ is the main reason why these people we see in the news are marching for the right to contract the virus wrapped in fat flags. It probably applies anywhere. But as you say, when it is a group culture that binds together, something magical, almost alchemical happens, that the westerner simply cannot penetrate.
Not sure it’s objectivity so much as individualism. Some Asian cultures honor hierarchy and expect people to put others or the group before themselves, while in the US it’s all about individual rights and expression. Overgeneralization, obviously. Will be curious to see the long-term outcomes of each country’s response – hopefully the masks and barriers are doing a better job than they’re given credit for. Fewer droplet-infected objects to touch.
Yes, the mask debate: much more debated outside Asia: everyone here just presumes they work to a certain extent. I hate them, but it just seems obvious to me that they MUST limit the spread of the watery deviations of the mouth into the orifices of others- I am grateful that people do wear them to be honest.
Still think you must come to Japan, if only for a visit.
This is so brilliant and thought-provoking, I’m going to have to go sleep on it before I write anything! WOW.
Wow to hear this on part as well that you would react like this (very pleased, but this is just my logic brain spewing out on a miserable Monday morning) ; I am trying to order my thoughts about all this bullshit.
Of everything I’ve read about coronavirus in Japan, your observations are the most detailed and, imo, accurate. I don’t know anything first-hand about Japanese culture, clearly, but what you say makes sense.
‘People simply refused to be undone by it; were determined, at core level, to present a brave face to the world,’ you wrote about Japan in 2011. This strikes me as possibly the same thing that’s happening now.
I’m find it fascinating to see how different cultures respond to the pandemic. Individually, people reveal much of their character by how they react to stressors, and I think it must be true collectively as well.
I see parallels between Japan and Sweden at the moment. It all seems a reflection of how they see themselves as a culture, and how they wish to appear to others. Calm, unified, rational, evolved. In control. Not overwhelmed by fear, by emotion. Able to maintain their high-functioning economic, medical, etc. structures without compromising their sophisticated way of living.
I’m concerned at how little testing Japan is doing. I think it says a great deal about its priorities and its overall approach. I wonder what the situation there is, really. I’ve read reams of angry editorial from other countries about their situations, but comparatively little from Japan. Am I just not looking in the right places for negative commentary?
I think what you say here is extraordinarily on point. The Swedish comparison is fascinating and makes COMPLETE sense to me. Yes – it is a case of collective ‘rising above’, which you can understand the appeal of, rather than the undignified situations in other places like Trumpsville.
At the same time, the sense of things being blanketed in dangerous secrecy is utterly maddening. I don’t read Japanese, so cannot comment on what the pundits are saying: the Japan Times IS fairly critical, though (but then it always is of the government, being somewhat left of centre).
I am interested in what you are saying about the lack of Japan’s testing saying a lot about its priorities and approach. You mean: ‘let them die’. Sometimes I wonder if that is what is going on – just hide the bodies and get on with it. I don’t know. I do know that I have a lot of stress, which I am repressing, due to the fact of being the only person in my school acting the way I am acting. At least in D’s case, ALL the teachers are off and being protected…
First of all, dear N., I thought all day about being too smugly harsh and critical in my assessment of the situation in Japan. I am sorry if I came down a bit too hard. (Probably my protective maternal instincts fuelled my indignant rush to judgment.) I have NO idea what’s happening there and so I shouldn’t be so sure of my opinion.
I love what you and Duncan think of Japan, and that’s the way I see the culture and the country, too, not having been there but knowing I’d feel the same and value the same things:
“The refinement, the finesse, he said. The politeness. The general respect. The unbelievable levels of safety (something you can truly never, ever take for granted: until you have experienced this, you cannot imagine what it feels like). The sheer excitement of the cities. The incredible food. The gentleness. The surroundings here in Kamakura. Nature, the ancient culture. The open-mindedness (you could also call it permissiveness, or tolerance – how else do you think we can walk around the way we do sometimes at night in Tokyo without anything ever happening? The responses are almost unanimously joyous and gleeful: there is no Judaeo-Christian moral judgment). These were just his first, throw-away ideas of why we do like living here; I could add many more (the classical culture; the weird, manic cyber- subcultures, the sheer, visual, aesthetic pleasure we derive from floating through Japan enough to sustain us for many years still to come).”
That’s just so damn respectful and positive and right! You two are so nice and deserve to have good lives there, and I’m glad you do.
I think what I mean about the significance of that bizarre lack of testing isn’t as cold-hearted as “let them die.” I’m guessing, but maybe it’s a kind of face-saving thing. Not wanting to have to deal with the inconvenient (hell, potentially disastrous) truth, or ADMIT it: admit the system is failing. THEY are failing. The health system is inadequate. Not wanting to make mistakes and be attacked for judging the thing wrong, for doing too much, not enough, or the wrong thing or the right thing at the wrong time. Fear of making decisions, of blunders, of mishandling this huge, terrible situation with such a massive human cost. Not wanting to screw up the economy, even if would help the most to close more businesses down for an unknown period of time. Do nothing, avoid actual numbers of infected and dead (it’s so weird that even the coronavirus Worldometer never seems to get decent data from Japan, especially when it comes to deaths), suppress the truth, and don’t upset anybody. But now I write that, “let them die” might actually be the thinking right now. Not in a cold-hearted or cruel way as I thought that choice must entail, but just in a passive, que sera sera way. (It gets the job done. One way or another, with or without mitigation, the virus will pass.) Absolved of responsibility. Guiltless, in a way.
Hell, I don’t know. But I know if I were you I’d be grinding my teeth at night.
Still, there’s a part of me that really does think that maybe Japan has something that will protect them somehow. Sort of a cosmic reward system for their goodness. And maybe, miraculously, they do. Seems like they might be banking on it.
Apropos of nothing, I’m glad Boris is back. Somehow, it’s reassuring. I just like the guy, flaws notwithstanding. I don’t know how you and Duncan and your family feel about him, and I don’t know much about him, but he’s just, at least superficially, behind the microphone, very appealing and likeable to Canadians like me.
What say you to all or any of this, dear Neil?
I think you have hit the nail on the head precisely. Re Japan. Completely. Very interesting for me to read, actually!
As for Boris, well, we have been so outside politics for so long, away from the UK for almost a quarter of a century, and during that time we have barely ever heard any of the prime ministers (Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron, Theresa May, or Boris – anyone I am missing?) even speak.
Politically, both our sets of parents are WAY more right than we are (they all voted for Brexit; NO FUCKING COMMENT when we have a flat in Berlin and were hoping to retire there ), but Boris, yes – he has a bumbling appeal that is SO much better than the Florida Orangutan.
How are things in Canada? I refuse to believe that it is utopia.
Oh, god, not utopia. Not Canada. I’m pretty damn upset at the country-wide totals: like nothing I would have guessed a month ago. Crazy numbers. I thought we’d be like Australia or New Zealand. Something went sideways and things spiralled and they’re barely settling down overall.
But talking about Canada as a whole isn’t especially useful in some ways. It doesn’t reflect what’s going on in BC. We’ve got 103 deaths (and counting, of course) in our whole province of around 5 million; Montreal has over 1000 deaths — that’s in one city. Kind of like comparing Utah with NYC, in a milder way.
Where we live, on the sparsely-populated, mainly-rural Sunshine Coast that stretches for a couple of hours driving time and a 45 minute ferry ride, 33,000 people, we’ve had 3-5 people with the virus on any given day, nobody in intensive care yet (and they’re poised with ventilators, PPE, the works), no deaths. (Ric’s neighbour is a medical doctor and gives us the local scoop whenever we talk across the hedge.) This place is LOCKED DOWN, too, so hyper-cautious. Everyone is doing what they’ve been told to do. Even the provincial parks have gates and chains across their entrances. Essential services open only and strict distancing guidelines. So it’s like the virus has passed us by . . . so far. I’m almost breathing that sigh of relief. The curve has been pretty flat for quite awhile We’ve got constant info, constant updated stats, charts, tables, you name it online. Total transparency. Very New Zealand like. It’s almost as though we’ve taken the opposite approach to Japan. What’s un-utopian right now for us is the economic fallout. Small businesses . . . many are not going to make it. That is the really sad, regrettable part. Most of us think the governments at the federal and provincial level are doing their best to take care of us. I think that’s the general consensus, although inevitably there are those who think it’s one big conspiracy, etc. Ric and I tend to be trusting and best-case-scenario-focussed. I don’t take for granted for a second that that’s a luxury that few can afford, globally.
At the beginning, I had that lump in the throat rosestrang had mentioned and I wanted to scream at everyone who was in each other’s droplet space. I think that lasted a week or so before we started to look in comparatively good shape while Ontario and Quebec started to go nuts. It’s not that we’re been especially virtuous or compliant here, I don’t think. They had an early Spring Break before the measures were put in place and people came back from Florida, Italy, et al in droves and there were a few super-spreaders at some large events, and catastrophes at care homes, especially in Quebec, where workers bounced around between locations spreading the virus with devastating efficiency. Tragic, tragic, tragic. This country is not going to bounce back, no way. It is going to be a slog to recover. Nobody underestimates that.
God no. It is going to be like that everywhere.
With the strong restrictions in place that you have, it must sound bizarre when I tell you about how it has been here – almost incomprehensible (although it is, I suppose, possible, that despite the economic damage here, mid-size businesses will have a slightly higher chance of survival).
Glad to hear that things are relatively in control where you are, though.
One problem that I have is that I have this irrepressible need to express everything I feel on The Black Narcissus, when it is perfectly possible that people where I work could be reading it. Unlikely – but not impossible; and it puts me in a slightly perilous position that pervades my psyche at night.
Being like my colleagues, though – ‘forced’ to be there by the office culture, and not saying anything, is far worse to me though
I’ve never read anything you’ve written about your workplace and your colleagues that is unfair. I’d hate for you to take any serious chances, but you seem to be holding a safe line. Who knows? Maybe some of them harbour similar thoughts and might feel validated, even if they couldn’t or wouldn’t say so. For others, your perspective might get them thinking along slightly more independent and enlightened lines. That couldn’t be a bad thing.
I’m still wary of the abnormally low numbers that are being reported in Japan. With reports of overwhelmed hospitals, and so little testing, all the pieces just don’t add up to a believable picture. Again, I really hope that Japan is defying the odds. It’s a long shot but not an impossibility. Although photos and reports of things being much less restricted there than in countries who have been hit hard . . . If Japan succeeds in their undereactive approach, every scientist in the world will be focused on figuring out exactly why. And we will be indebted.
A good way of putting it. The headline story in the Japan Times today is that hospitals are COMPLETELY overwhelmed and they are genuinely talking about a ‘collapse’ in the system. It seems quite dire.
They are belatedly thinking about building field hospitals like in other countries, and are finally beginning to realise the importance of testing. The virus is simply spreading too rapidly to contain now…the ‘close your eyes and it will go away’ approach has definitely failed.
I don’t think that Japan will be one of the countries that are praised later when all of this has been analysed by epidemiologists : other countries like South Korea, New Zealand and Germany will be the ones for that. It so happens that if the country has a nationalist / dictator / right wing leader, it tends to have a worse outcome, such as the US, UK, Turkey, now Japan, Russia…..anywhere where there is a ‘strongman’ approach. Places like Spain and Italy may have had a disastrous situation for general failures at the beginning, but at least they had the sense to impose real lockdowns quite quickly. Had they not, their death tolls would have been even worse.
And it is very gratifying to hear what you say about my colleagues and what I have written about the situation. As I say, I really don’t think that anyone DOES read this – though there is a possibility for ‘spying’ by the odd teacher whose English level is up to it; my friends in the company who I sometimes send links for particular pieces to do seem to appreciate them and often agree with the way I am phrasing things. Thank god I actually DO have a few people I like and trust within the organisation….
Since we’re a bit further along here in the USA some actual hard data is starting to come out .All the initial
warnings and reactions were based on predictive computer models.The real data coming out now from the doctors actually treating patients here indicates something far different .I won’t go into details here but I encourage you to watch this video and perhaps we can start a conversation 😄 On another note I’m off to sleep marinating in the animalic loveliness of Pekji’s Zebek 😎
Cheers from NYC!
That sounds intriguing. Perfume is quite the escape route – usually. Right now I am frazzled, irritable, and will watch this later. If you feel like explaining the essential points I would be delighted.
I wouldn’t believe much of the information coming out of the US…they reacted late to the virus (as did the UK) with shocking results. New York is one of my favourite cities in the world (though I despise Trump) and the death toll there is staggeringly high. It is incredibly sad. We seem to have managed the virus reasonably well here in Australia and have been at home for the past 5-6 weeks except for shopping and exercise. The essential services workers have been brilliant…funny how shopkeepers and health workers are the lowest paid but the most needed in these times. Our economy has tanked and we are seeing a steep rise in unemployment…the dilemma now is when to gradually ease restrictions without increasing the numbers of people with the virus. Singapore opened up too early it seems and is experiencing a rise in infections.
Maybe the only good thing to come out of this is the demise of those f#### horrible cruise ships.
UGH YES. I have never been attracted to cruise ships, even though I once almost got a job as a dinner pianist on a cruise ship from Ankara!
I have been reading about Australia and New Zealand as potential success stories in all of this; we will see (as I never categorically trust any one source of information any more; can anybody?)
It does seem though that the measures being taken where you are were are basically working. Thank god: after those fires from hell, which surely everyone must be still completely traumatised by, I doubt people could take a full on NYC catastrophe on top; it would send everybody over the edge.
I feel your pain! The first week of lockdown I was so anxious all the time I had what they call ‘globus hystericus’ – a tightening of the throat that feels like you’re swallowing a lump. Luckily I’ve suffered from anxiety before and know who to deal with it (getting out of breath for 10 mins fools the limbic system into thinking you’ve dealt with the scary lion – the neo cortex doesn’t believe you when you tell yourself everything is really ok!).
The reaction has varied widely across countries. Interestingly, Sweden didn’t have full lockdown. I’ve been reading a lot from doctors and nurses – those posting on you tube or social media as opposed to MSM and it seems that the initial reaction : ‘we don’t know what exactly we’re dealing with here, so let’s have a lockdown’, makes perfect sense. But, some new data, based on dealing with it direct, suggests a different approach. I’ll give you this link below to a couple of doctors (experts on contagious diseases) who question full lockdown, they seem to suggest that at this stage, only the most vulnerable or ill should self quarantine. It’s well worth a watch, taught me a lot –
Having said that, I use a mask outside, I wash everything I buy and leave things at the door in quarantine, such as shoes or coats etc. I’m being careful because I’m over 50 and have been a smoker. But, according to these doctors, if you avoid germs and viruses over the space of a month or more, you actually start to compromise your immune system, which relies on exposure to all the nasties in order to stay strong.
I’m starting to see the effect of lockdown on people, and it may begin to be as much a problem as Covid – not just on the economy, but mental health and treatment of other illnesses. I really feel for the elderly in lockdown. Hence my little surprise gift of Miss Balmain sent in the post to my mum, she should receive that tomorrow 🙂
Keep well, wishing you and Duncan the best of health!
That should be a wonderful uplift for her – always so gorgeous to receive perfume in the post.
Thanks for the links: I am personally not actually that anxious or stressed, on the whole to be honest – today was a blip – but when confronted with what seems to be bizarre behaviour I like to hear different explanations.
Ps : Globus Hystericus – much as I like the combination of words aesthetically – sounds absolutely hideous. Glad it was only a temporary thing for you!
Thank you, yes it was only temporary. Glad you’re not feeling anxious 🙂 Interestingly the UK reaction has probably been the opposite to Japan, the warnings would put the fear of death in the most calm person! The problem now is that people are too scared to go to hospitals for anything, they’d rather die at home of a heart attack. Weird times eh?!
No this really IS weird: ‘they’d rather die at home of a heart attack’ – so terrified of getting infected you mean? This is how it seems to me as well; both sets of parents firmly ensconced in domestic lockdown, barely leaving their own houses.
Japan does not have this pattern of behaviour at all. My gut feeling is that the real symptoms, how the illness plays out, has been slightly ‘softened’ for the public, in the same way that the lockdown is half-hearted; Japan basically does like to quieten the blow of things a lot of the time which is why I am basically seen as an elephant in a china shop.
It is weird that you are seeing so much disregard for basic precautions in Japan! Here in the US, people actually are taking them seriously. Those demonstrations demanding to reopen are being fomented by the usual “dark money” political groups run by billionaires, and they involve relatively few people. I wouldn’t care if they were only risking themselves, but of course, they’re not; and if they get sick, or make others sick, they’ll contribute to overwhelming our inadequate health care system and heroic healthcare workers. The wealthy have no intention of going back to places where they might be exposed themselves. This crisis is highlighting so much of the ugliness in American politics. Luckily, it also seems to be jolting people back into seeing what an evil nincompoop Trump is. The situation in New York is tragic, and I hope Tokyo doesn’t end up at the same level of crisis. Glad to know that you and Duncan are being careful! I’m doing all my work remotely as American universities shut down pretty early, before most stay home orders, and their leadership is listening to the scientists. We were lucky that spring break offered a logical time to just not resume classes in March.
Yes – that was fortunate. Imagine all this happening at the end of November or something – it would have been even worse.
In Japan, people are known for their basic hygiene – shoes off inside; bowing instead of shaking hands or hugging; probably more hand washing; food poisoning is very rare in restaurants etc etc (in fact, there is more eczema and asthma here because of over protective and cautious mothers worrying about the slightest speck of dirt). This hidden pride is partially to blame for the seeming nonchalance I think – others have said the same thing. I don’t think INSIDE people are FAR less worried than other people – how would I know? – but my feeling is that, as is often the case with Japan, somehow the whole thing is being muffled, ‘processed’, like the thick layers of a kimono. There is no politics here; no demonstrations; there is a (slightly pathetic) docility. People just accept the status quo – and then tweet against it furiously and anonymously on social media. Stuff is always going on beneath the surface..
I agree with you completely about people endangering other people by going out unnecessarily – one teacher in particular who goes backwards and forwards 80 minutes or so from Tokyo every day is right in the middle of the danger zone and bringing it down here into the teachers’ room where everyone is congregating; I know some teachers will be disquieted at best by this but they would never say anything (just breathe a bit more deeply into their masks). America is way more up front and suffering – Trump is….just hilarious. Abe is blundering with protected interests; equally slow in responding, but not QUITE as basically stupid.
I hope you are at home with nice blends of essential oils and poetry and flowers. x
I’m just confused about everything and how best to go forward. I’ve been doing extreme quarantining because I don’t want to potentially take up a hospital bed. But I sometimes wonder should I expose myself to the virus, to build immunity? I am a very lucky person because I never get sick. If I get a sniffle or a scratch in my throat, I sleep it off and I’m fine the next day. Same with any stomach troubles. This has made me think I’m meant to be a caregiver. I have been thinking of my parents. I’m going to have to leave Brazil at some point to take care of them. They are fine now….but I just can’t see putting them in any kind of nursing home…I think I see where my life is heading. It’s perfectly fine, it was meant to be…I hope to visit my parents in October. I told my dad to set up the grill outside so I can do my own cooking outside as i quarantine for 2 weeks. These kind of configurations occupy my thoughts these days….Brazil is a mess politically, but there are absolutely no food/product shortages like in other countries. The farmers, truck drivers wake up every day and just keep working… I hope with Golden Week Japan can flatten the curve if people stay home. I wish you safety and health!
You too: I know you have an iron immune system but let’s not be TOO complacent, FFS. As we know, this mother can strike anybody.
It might be the perfect time for quarantining in the US in October, to see the folks and then realise what you are missing back home in Sao Paolo. IF you are allowed to travel at that time, I mean.
You sound less blissed out and in your own world than the last time, when you were so absorbed in books and lounging around checking the stock exchange. It is the same for me: days when I am calm and zoned out and then others where I am more stressed and emotional. The future is more…..cloudy. The present more….insistent. Which I don’t mind, but I sense the limitations of this mode of living! We are still enjoying cooking at home, but Thai food, in particular restaurants, DID start rearing its fragrant, herbed coconut head into my brian this evening.
Thai food cravings are REAL! We have two great family-owned Thai restaurants near us and we’ve gotten takeout a coup,e of times, from each one, partly to help support local small business but also because we needed Masaman curry! One of my daughters is teaching herself how to make gai tom ka at home, and I’m experimenting with Indian food recipes.
Before the lockdown I bought literally a whole suitcase full of Indian ingredients from a specialist store in Tokyo and carted it back down to Kamakura because I knew it would be necessary : I have made some half-decent approximations at home that were quite tasty. I always find with Thai that even if you make a green curry at home (and Masaman curry…..oh my god it’s so delicious….) it lacks all the various herbs and sour/fresh/ citric tastes I adore so much that make it feel authentic. The last two meals we had outside were Thai – I suspect they will be the first as well.
Are there no issues with potential infections on take out food? I have heard conflicting reports about the virus lingering on surfaces etc: this doesn’t seem to be a concern here at all (it’s so ODD all the epidemiological differences/ approaches/beliefs : I know that I cannot accept one source of information as gospel, which is why I like to open up discussions like this. I will sometimes get emails from work telling me this or that is true about the virus but it appals me that anyone could just state ‘facts’ with a straight face when there is so much conflicting information.
The food is supposedly fine; and these two restaurants seem to be taking plenty of precautions; when you pick up the food, everyone is wearing masks and gloves, including us. We get rid of the outer wrappings as soon as we bring the food in, discard the gloves, and everyone washes hands thoroughly. My medical friends keep stressing that the big issues are hand hygiene and avoiding aerosol droplets.
That does seem to be the general consensus now, which is a relief.
I’m confused because I wonder if I should let the damn virus strike me and hope my immune system just fights it off, to get it over with and then be immune??? But I don’t know if that’s how it works. And I live with someone who is not as strong as I am, so it’s probably not a good idea. So I remain confused…I’m still quite blissful because I’m facing everything without blurry drugs. This quarantine has been a good time to get clean. So while the future is certainly cloudy, I’m not in the clouds….and that’s….nice. I wonder if confusion has to equal stress and sadness. I wonder and wonder and that in itself is kind of blissful. Configuring new ways is kind of blissful, too.
I agree. People are kind of COALESCING within themselves; understanding life, their own characters, more – but personally, I really really don’t think you should even be toying with any ideas of just getting struck by the virus like a hero and then fighting it off. STOP THIS NONSENSE! There are no guarantees it could work; and those intubators look like nightmares; like having a plastic vacuum cleaner shoved down your throat into your chest. No no no. Stay in the clouds!
In reply to what you replied to – people scared to go to hospital. It’s because the message ‘stay at home’ ‘save lives’ ‘protect our NHS’ has really sunk in. So the non-Covid wards are practically empty. I think it’s the same in the US. A nurse friend of mine says this too.
Having said all this, I’m having quite a nice time – painting, living in with my new partner, making music and songs together… I miss my friends though!
But how great to have found new love at this strange time, in a way.
As for hospitals, it is this that petrifies me: what if something non Covid-related were to happen and you can’t even get into on in a Japanese city, or if you do, you catch the damn virus? It is all this that makes you truly want to isolate and not go back into the madness of the work maelstrom ( I can’t tell you how deeply angry it makes me that companies here are happy for their employees to risk their lives in the way they are doing…I actually can’t express it yet. Should be good fodder for the eventual book though, which will be so steaming from the seams with rage it will take off by itself from the shelves
I am starting to be quite concerned about my level of health and fitness after 5 weeks of quarantine. I am hoping they start lifting it next week here in Québec. Due to fear of a plummeting immune system, I am going out every day on walks, doing my normal shopping/errands with no mask or gloves, I do not disinfect my groceries or mail/packages. I wash my hands thoroughly after being outside, but I’ve always done that as standard hygiene.
Certainly I would not purposely put myself into a crowded situation, but I am not avoiding normal interactions. This is necessary for my personal mental and physical health, based on the information I have gathered over the past few weeks and the conditions where I live.
Interesting. I hadn’t considered the idea of people’s immune systems being weakened. Do you have any links to this I can read? This hasn’t been discussed at all here, but it makes sense. Perhaps I am right not to be wiping every last purchase down from the local shops then? (we haven’t been doing that at all, actually ).
I am putting on weight because of the lack of movement compared to usual, despite us going out to cycle for half an hour every day or whatever. Then again, I am lazy by nature. TERRIBLY. I love lazing around and just sitting here writing listening to the birds and local ambient sounds outside.
At the same time, I am aware of things not being ‘quite right’ in my head, if you know what I mean. Ultimately, we do all need to get back into the world again even when we have convinced ourselves that we don’t.
N – with my health editor hat on – you can help to keep your immune system working normally (you can never “boost” it) by eating well, lots of fruit and vegetables of all different colours so you get as many different vitamins as possible, not drinking too much and yes by getting proper exercise five times a week. So cycling is good. And yes keeping your immune system working normally may help it to fight off infection. When it comes to a new virus though, that is debatable. What a healthy immune system can do is help you to recover from the virus and hopefully avoid being hospitalised. So yes, not putting on masses of weight would be a good idea because there is some (mixed) evidence that people who are very overweight are less likely to fight off things like Covid. But strengthening one’s immune system by deliberately exposing onesself to the virus, or by exposing onesself to germs? That is, I’m sorry to say madness. Health rant over! Can send studies if you like (and look forward to talking about perfume soon!)xxx
I have read/seen multiple articles/ interviews with doctors in the US who state that it’s important to have exposure to the world to keep your immune system up & functioning. This is how babies develop an immune system after all. And if your immune system is working well, you may not even get sick from Covid – the macrophages which are the first line of defense can clean viruses/bacteria out without you ever getting sick. Many people have tested positive who have never had symptoms. The various strains of flu are « new » every year and people successfully fight them off – I’ve never gotten a flu shot and can’t remember the last time I had the flu. So I do believe if you have a healthy lifestyle Covid is very unlikely to kill you. The statistics bear this out. However, I have observed that peoples’ beliefs about these things are emotional and heavily influenced by personal experience and what media they are following, so I no longer get into involved debates on who’s right, the best thing is for people to do what feels right to them. I keep my distance and respect others’ space, but follow my own beliefs.
This is a good way of looking at it. I have never had the flu in my life. TOTAL seclusion probably isn’t good for anybody. Perhaps the amount we are going out now is just about right, immune-wise, I don’t know.
Very pleased to read this morning that Oxford University seems to have potentially sorted out a vaccine that might be available worldwide this September!
Vegetables vegetables……Absolutely. I crave them every day. I just wish the lady were a bit more careful about how she touches things.
The video rosestrang posted (I see the link is no longer available) of the ABC television interview with two California ER doctors says just this. They explain that it is the sick who should be quarantined not the healthy, and that a healthy microbiome includes exposure to germs/viruses. Pity the video is no longer available.
Thanks for summarising its contents nevertheless!
Hello from Germany!
The situation is so very, very strange: 80 million inhabitants in Germany; 158.000 infected; 6.000 dead. New York City: 20 million; 160.000 infected; 12.280 dead.
We now are in a situation where there are too many free beds in ICU! Hospital staff are sent on holiday or into short-time working (Kurzarbeit) in some parts. Non-Corona related urgent operations have been put on hold, hospitals are making losses.
Families with children at home, and at the same time, parents working from home are all collectively going around the bend with the confinement and closeness; domestic violence soaring. So many people in fear of losing their jobs; many SME not knowing whether they‘ll make it in the next weeks to come; restaurant and hotels practically bankrupt.
I find, we‘ve all done a pretty good job here in containing the virus, yet! yet the price for all: men, women, children, environment, industry, commerce is just staggering.
It breaks my heart when I begin to think about countries in Africa where I was born, where they do not have any of the resources the wealthy club owns!
Germany did a much better job of handling the situation and took the right measures, NY did not and their people paid the price. Hopefully Germany is following Austria’s lead and starting to open things back up? That would be the right decision now it seems.
You would think so, reading about all these empty hospital beds.
The leaders certainly do have to balance out the economic damage potential with damage from the virus…..this is what the Japanese government has been trying to do, in my view too willing to sacrifice people though. I honestly burn with rage inside thinking about my colleagues having to go into the workplace at this time. It is just ethically wrong to me.
I know…..Africa is probably next and it could be a total disaster.
Perhaps Germany can help out – as you said, the country has done a good job of dealing with everything so far. I watched Merkel’s speech on TV and it was SO much better than Orange Fuckface has ever, COULD ever come up with. Common sense, dignity, scientific knowledge…….the difference is just IMMENSE.
When do your instincts tell you that things will start to vaguely return to normal?
I had to read this post in segments because it was a lot to take in. Incomprehensible as it is that people in Japan are not taking Covid 19 seriously, you kind of explain why they are not taking it seriously. I totally understand why you and Duncan love it there. And I also understand why you’re so frustrated. It’s just as crazy and insane here. There are people who take this so seriously and there are people who are just idiots. I am so glad you wrote this. You give us a really good perspective. And I’m really glad that you’re refusing to go to work, Neil. Stay safe you two. ❤
Thanks for saying this. I never know, when I get up in the morning and embark on a piece of writing, what is going to happen in it. I don’t plan the pieces, they just come out as they do. I think as a reaction to all the underground vampire glamour of Belgium’s post and my thing on dinosaurs and Monica Bellucci, I got some blood out of my system and then felt like being clearheaded and rational : I have been wanting to write about all of this for quite while now. I am glad that it made sense and was not just incoherent nonsense. I am also glad that you understand WHY we are here, but also why it is insanity inducing when people don’t seem to take things properly seriously. But as you say: EVERYWHERE is insane to a certain extent, especially now.
It’s gorgeous being at home just malingering in perfume, but today I need to go on a very long bike ride. Both of us feel like hitting the reset button in some way today!
I am presuming with all the space and air around you now, there is not too much of a danger….or doesn’t it quite work that way?
We are so isolated up here. Our closest neighbor is a quarter of a mile away and when we go on walks with the dogs down the dirt road we see some cars and maybe a bicyclist, but they’re far away. The dirt road is big and we never get close to people. I go to the grocery store online pick up driveway and open up the back of my car and they place the groceries in my car and that’s it. I only get out with my glove and mask to give the girl who puts groceries in the car a tip. We’re both over 65 and not really feeling comfortable going out in the world. Honestly, we both worry much more about our kids. My daughter’s in Brooklyn and my son is in Austin, and both are currently unemployed because of this mess.
My brother and sister too……It’s shit.
And your son with his recent illness…..quite terrifying.
I am very glad at least that you are in these cut off situations; the grocery thing sounds ideal. I am slightly freaking out at the contact we have been having, to be honest with you. Japan doesn’t have that ‘leave things and don’t touch them’ thing yet – if it ever will. Everything is as it always was….
I’ve lived in Japan for nearly 30 years so nothing really surprises me anymore. But the reaction or rather, non-action by a lot of Japanese people who *just don’t get it* is a bit baffling. I’ll tell you what it reminds me of – putting children in car seats. There are so many people who let their kids bounce around the car with no restraints when it is pretty much guaranteed that in an accident, they would suffer fairly serious injury. It’s a kind of blasé, “won’t happen to me” kind of attitude that is going on with Covid, I think. How else can you explain it?
It’s quite a human thing though isn’t it? Until the danger is literally in your face, you don’t want to think about it. You want your pachinko fix, you want your soba and beer with your mates…until you’ve got a raging temperature and you can’t breathe!
I’m not terrified or anything – I’m just doing all I can to protect myself and my family and not thinking too much about pachinko-playing idiots. As you know, my daughter was commuting by train into the heart of Tokyo every day until this week – it’s her first job after graduation so she’s been there less than a month but she put her head above the parapet and actually emailed her direct boss, asking why they couldn’t work from home! And now they are doing just that – I have a feeling she won’t be cowed by the work culture here!
And she is half-Japanese……interesting that she has had the courage to stand up to the work culture when she has only just started the job. So pleased that that is the case though. Sometimes you just have to set a precedent (it is causing me stress, though – my own bold stance…..I have had another terrible night of nightmares again…..); you feel the pressure somewhere internally; J-work culture unspoken conformity culture is SO strong it actually gets into your blood I think….
Your car seat analogy is interesting. I agree it is probably something like that….some kind of peculiar denial.
I want to read this properly, slowly, so that I can do it justice. But a few points. This is all utterly fascinating. But, and this is in no way to negate what you have written, in some instances you could replace “Japan” with “UK”. Why did we leave things so late? Because we were waiting for a study from Imperial College, apparently. After the study was published, our advice changed. But, having worked as a health writer, looking at global stats, I always find it baffling that different countries have different advice and guidelines when essentially, and to paraphrase Dave Gahan, people are people. Why were our tubes so crowded? Why did people stuff themselves into pubs the night before lockdown? Why do they still gather on crowded bridges in the capital to clap the NHS, rather than stay in their on homes? It is baffling. Yet oddly fascinating. (Is that wrong?). Masks apparently protect others from our droplets (I love having a droplet ;), yet do not protect us from theirs. But surely, if they have a slightly protective effect, we should adopt them in the UK. Yet we haven’t. All so horribly fascinating if it wasn’t anxiety inducing. Mine comes and goes, but is better than it was. Amazing what the mind adapts to. I find supermarkets terrifying but have to go, because the online slots are reserved for the elderly and vulnerable. If you can, shop online. Also, for what it’s worth, from personal experience as well as from evidence: a bit of work is good for us. Not too much, though x
YES. People should have been looking at things globally from the very beginning; looking at the wider picture; waiting for Imperial College is RIDICULOUS. This is the first time I have heard about that.
And it IS all fascinating; completely. x
It’s all coming out now…the report was published 10 days before the government changed their advice, and in the meantime, we all went about our normal lives.
I am just so completely bewildered by the response in Japan. It is a fact that exposure to this has serious consequences, yet they are all trying to soldier on as if this is some mystical problem beyond the scope of their everyday lives.
I find it interesting, how everyone there wants things to continue normally because it couldn’t possibly happen to them, yet in the US you have people protesting that it isn’t fair to force them to act in a responsible way because if it happens, well it happens. Stupidity in both attitudes.
I just don’t understand the way people think.