‘Japan never really had corona virus, right?’ – friends not living in Japan.

White Covid-19 text on red background with little virus symbols

I thought I’d address the above popular belief and give a 100% FACTUALLY ACCURATE explanation of what’s been going on east-side. (Spoiler alert: we absolutely did/do have corona virus but hats off to the Japanese media for fooling the West like that.)

So, it’s January 2020 and Japan gets its first confirmed case of the virus. Two weeks later, there are 10 cases aboard a cruise ship revoltingly named the Diamond Princess, which then gets locked down in a Japanese dock. But this is the olden days, this is back in the heady days of early corona when people (me) are saying things like ‘it’s basically just flu’; Selena Gomez is exploring profound (ly insensitive) notions like ‘death is inevitable’ with her millions of followers; and no one, not even the authorities, really knows what lockdown means or should entail.  In the Diamond Princess’s case, it means that no-one can leave the vessel, passengers are confined to their rooms, and staff….. well, staff are still working, hanging out and eating together in large numbers. Oh, really?! That seems a bit… naughty? Well, whatever, I’m no virologist. But some people who are virologists start questioning whether having people x 1000 + deadly virus locked up together on a ship is the best idea. Turns out it isn’t, because later = 700 cases.  

Huge cruise ship sailing

Meanwhile, back on dry land Japan’s Prime Minister is STRESSING OUT about the Olympics. Mr Shinzo Abe (pronounced ‘Ah-beh’…. not Abe as in ‘babe’, like I’d been saying) loves the Olympics, especially the gymnastics and the swimming. He’s been really, really looking forward to hosting. So because of that (AND CASH) he’s reluctant to cancel. Which to be fair, I get, because I remember there was once no way in hell I was gonna cancel our house party, despite the fact my tonsillitis was preventing me from swallowing and talking.

Eventually though, after succumbing to peer pressure from the bigger boys (Canada, Australia and the US) Abe postpones the Olympics. He’s fucked off, but after a while he gets over it and films himself playing with his dog on Instagram to show what a bloody normal and nice bloke he is. He’s basically created an atmosphere where he’s a friend first, a Prime Minister second, and probably an entertainer third. Which might be why he’s not testing that many people for the virus. Too chilled out. Little swots Korea, on the other hand, are top of the class – they’re testing 10,000 people a day! (To Japan’s 900.) But Mr Abe reminds everyone that it’s quality over quantity, adding, ‘the fewer tests we do you guys, the less cases we’ll have!’ and he shakes his head, rolls his eyes and throws himself down on his big comfy Prime Minister’s chair.

Philosophical question: If corona virus spreads within a country but no one is there to test for it, does it even cause a problem?

The answer is yes, because people do start dying.

Folks are a bit upset about this so Mr Abe needs a radical plan, and fast, because he hates upsetting people. He opts to close all schools nationwide. This is a bold and probably necessary move, but it’s also an annoying and stressful one for parents whose workplaces are still very much open (including parents who are teachers, because he’s only closing schools to kids. Yes that’s right, teachers must still go to work every day in closed schools). This means that public transport is still RAMMED with commuters, and in my workplace at least, everyone still sits at desks daily pretending to be busy in a Crowded, Closed space and Close contact setting, otherwise known as the office.

….Yes! Well done us!! We’ve hit the 3 Cs!!

Wait, what? Oh, we’re meant to be avoiding the 3 Cs?! Oh.

View down the inside of a crowded Tokyo commuter train carriage

Many businesses are prompted to temporarily close. Not all though: essential items like beef topped rice at the Sukiya restaurant chain are still available around the clock THANK GOD. Other eateries, such as my local, small but wildly popular bakery-cum-cafe switch to take-out only. This means that you can’t relax at one of their spacious and socially-distanced tables, but you can stand in an intimate, snaking line within kissing distance of other pastry lovers as you wait for your baked goods.

At exactly the same that her husband is trying to impose something as close to a nationwide lockdown as he is constitutionally allowed to do, Mr Abe’s wife is paralyzed by indecision: which cherry blossom viewing party should she go to? They all look fun. When she finally decides on one, she has a right laugh. The annoying media, however, puts a right downer on it by taking her picture and haranguing her for flouting her husband’s rules. All she’s doing is letting her hair down a bit after a stressful year, jeez! It’s not like she drove to a castle in Durham with her wife and kid and said it was to check her eyesight or anything.

So that leads us, kind of, to now. After Abe ends the state of emergency on May 31st, everything is pretty much back to normal, save for a few big duct-tapped ‘X’es on seats in the odd café. We can return in our droves to tiny, hole-in-the-wall bars and restaurants should we choose, and we can pack 33 children plus three teachers into a 30 capacity classroom for a lesson. (I do not know why this is happening at schools – I ask, but I never understand the answer.) However, wo betide anyone who strays from their home without a face mask. The punishment? Extreme internalised judgement from others. But maybe, therein lies the explanation to Japan’s relatively low case numbers (besides the initial lack of testing): NO ONE WANTS OTHERS TO THINK THEY’RE A PRICK.

Japanese society tends to be more rule-abiding and conformist than Western society, and Japan has been subscribing to mask-wearing culture for many moons now, so when local authorities suggest not going to restaurants, residents don’t. When people need to leave their homes, they wear a mask, even when driving alone in the car or walking in a big open park. So there we have it, deference is the key to conquering corona virus. I should be Prime Minister. The End.

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