Nearly 70% of people do not expect the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games to be held as scheduled, according to a Kyodo News survey in early March.
The reason is the global impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
From Shanghai to Rome, from London to New York, we’re seeing the most populous cities in the world turn into ghost towns overnight.
So while the Japanese feel that holding the Olympics and Paralympics may be impossible this year, they are doing so in a country that is surprisingly sociable. While the same Kyodo News survey showed that 44.3% of the Japanese survey disapproved of the government measures, people are out and about in ways that would be shocking to people elsewhere in the world.
Yes, Japan had the scare of the Diamond Princess, a story brought live by Twitter and TV into the phones and homes of every citizen here. And when the passengers were released in a seemingly slipshod and insecure manner, there were fears of a potential outbreak in Japan.
Surprisingly, the outbreak never happened in Japan. Other countries raced ahead of Japan in terms of number of infections or coronavirus-related deaths. While other Asian nations got praise for their swift response regarding policies and testing, Japan has been criticized for its relatively limited testing and perceived lack of transparency. Still Japan is quietly sharing numbers that reflect a relatively low number of infections, and perhaps more significantly, a much lower number of reported hospitalizations and deaths due to coronavirus.
Is Japan exceptional? We’ll have to wait for the research after the pandemic has run its course, but this article cites several reasons why Japan may be ahead of the curve when it comes to fighting off coronavirus:
- the most vulnerable demographic – 65 and older – is a very healthy one in Japan
- Japan’s national health system is accessible to all and inexpensive
- Senior care services are abundant and inexpensive
- Japanese hospitals are experienced in detecting early and treating respiratory ailments in the elderly, and
- Japanese are very hygiene conscious, and do not have customs like hand shaking and kissing
Two months after the horror show that was the Diamond Princess, the Japanese health system is handling the comparatively small number of cases coming its way.
So while corporations across Japan have cancelled large events and large meetings, implemented policies that restrict movement and encourage work from home, there are still many people commuting to work in buses and trains.
While people in Japan are discouraged not to gather for cherry blossom viewing parties as the sakura begin to bloom this weekend, the restaurants and shopping areas are still filled with people.
Public schools all over Japan closed down a couple of weeks before the beginning of Spring Break. And yet, only several weeks later, the government is now recommending that schools re-open (assuming there are no new confirmed cases) as planned at the beginning of the new academic year in April.
To the outsider, Japan may be compared to Nero fiddling while his city burned. But so far, the numbers are not indicating a city on fire.
Yes, it is strange to live in Japan today. Surreal in fact.
I think I’ll go for a walk among the cherry trees.