People have different ways of dealing stress and fear, especially during a protracted battle with a worldwide pandemic. Some Japanese are claiming that superstition saved us (as opposed to the two cloth masks per person promised by Prime Minister Abe), along with praying at Shinto shrines and guzzling detoxifying green tea.
As fears over a Covid-19 ‘infection explosion’ very gradually recede in the rearview mirror, more people are in a mood to agree with these theories.
After all, rural and traditional Japan remained largely unscathed by Covid-19, and these are the areas where people routinely visit local shrines, carry omamori (お守り・talismans), ask for ‘oharai’ (お祓い) –which is the practice of having a Shinto priest chase out bad spirits and demons lurking in one’s immediate vicinity, and down a lot of tea after the ceremony. If you get a Buddhist priest to do it, it’s yakubarai (厄払い). Add to that list, the drawing of an Amabie and posting it on social media. You may have just the armor needed for pandemic warfare.
A what? An Amabie (pronounced ama-bi-eh) is a yokai (妖怪）which can be translated as apparition, phantom creature or monster. She has the appearance of a three-legged mermaid with a beak in lieu of a mouth and she’s been around since the mid-19th century, according to Edo-Period documents. Though the typical Japanese yokai is often grotesque and loves to play pranks on humans, the Amabie is a beach chick that emerges from the sea to foretell epidemics. If you carry around her picture, she can ward off mass contagion and the effect is doubled if you draw it yourself. A lot of people in Japan and elsewhere have tried their hand at drawing Amabie, and she now has a definite presence on social media, on #Amabiechallenge and others.
Strangely enough, the Amabie has become a thing that may actually work. As of May 20th, the Japanese government has lifted the State of Emergency order for most of the nation, excluding the Tokyo metropolitan area. But the capitol city has been reporting less than 20 new infection cases for a week. Day care centers are talking about reopening as early as the 25th. Some local bars are welcoming customers again, even if masks are mandatory and draft beer is a thing of the past. Yes, the economy is in shambles and there’s nothing on TV but at least we’re seeing a light at the end of the tunnel.
This isn’t the first time modern Japan has turned to superstition and yokai for solace and guidance. The late manga artist Shigeru Mizuki, creator of the mega hit yokai manga series Ge ge ge no Kitaro (Spooky Kitaro) had always held that the yokai was what kept Japan from teetering over the edge into the abyss of disaster. Without their presence and powers, he said, the archipelago would just be a dreary sinkhole of greed and corruption. The yokai is a familiar figure in Japanese folklore, and some date back a thousand years. Some function as avatars for Shinto gods. Others do mischief and love to disrupt people as they go about their lives. The yokai can be friendly too, and will make good companions, as long as you respect tradition, revere nature and refrain from harming others.
Mizuki hails from Tottori prefecture, a very traditional region that has racked up a total of three– count ’em three!–Covid 19 infection cases and zero deaths so maybe his take on the yokai was right. Mizuki’s own illustration of the Amabie has been posted on social media since mid-March, courtesy of Mizuki Production, and apparently this has been printed out and carried inside wallets or folded into omamori sachets. A friend of mine in Tottori reports that local reverence for Mizuki has soared, and the 800 meter long “Mizuki Shigeru Road” in his hometown of Sakaiminato, which is marked with yokaistatues and merchandise shops, has seen a lot of (masked) tourist action. These people hang out bv the various yokai figuresto take photos, and leave little notes of prayer for the pandemic to end.
Shigeru Mizuki died in 2017 at the age of 93 but if he were around today, he would no doubt have had plenty to say about the government’s handling of the pandemic. Mizuki was a WWII veteran who lost an arm in combat in Papua New Guinea, and the harrowing experience shaped his views on authority and Japanese society. After the war Mizuki struggled to survive before settling down to write manga, which he continued doing right up until his death. For many years, he could barely make ends meet but his career took off when the Kitaro series hit prime time TV in the late 1960s. However, success didn’t turn his head or soften his judgement on what he saw as crimes committed by the Japanese government, be it throwing the nation into war, or going whole hog on nuclear energy. His manga was never cute or very accessible – they depicted the Japanese as desperate and conniving, with caricatured features like bad teeth, squinty eyes and terrible posture. His portraits of the typical Japanese male were so unflattering they resembled the Yellow Peril posters propagated by the US military during WWII. According to Mizuki, the only way these unattractive Japanese could achieve a slightly higher level of humanity, was to befriend a yokai.
Mizuki’s drawing of the Amabie though, is soft and friendly-looking. She really does seem concerned about the welfare of this archipelago. It’s not a bad picture to carry around, especially in a time when everyone is masked and avoiding eye contact as if the very act of acknowledging another person is a risky undertaking. If a picture of a three-legged mermaid is going to make people feel better about each other, it should probably be framed and put up inside the Diet building.
The COVID-19 outbreak has hit Japan hard as of late. Classrooms remain empty after spring break, restaurants begin to provide take-out, and factories stall upcoming projects. The number of workers who are predicted to lose their jobs due to the novel Coronavirus was projected in the upwards of 1,021 people last month, according to the Ministry of Labor. Prime Minister Abe did declare a State of Emergency on April 7th, and the Ministry of Finance announced that ¥100,000 would be given to residents (and eventually confirmed that foreign residents were included) but some experts argue that this declaration occurred too late.
While April would normally be the start of new jobs for many in Japan, this April seems to have an opposite turnout for most job-seekers. Lines outside of Hello Work* buildings all over the country would be twice as long as lines for masks outside of drugstores. Certain locations have also reduced the amount of staff members on-duty, causing longer waiting times at local Hello Work branches.
(Hello Work is an employment service center operated by the Japanese government, under the auspices of the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. Its main role is to help connect job seekers to companies in need of skilled labor.)
In early April, I became a part of this statistic. My 6-month contract at a city hall in Osaka was not granted for renewal, and the job openings for tourism and English education in the area seemed to have vanished as the governor also declared a state of emergency. I decided to reach out to Hello Work to see if I was eligible for any benefits and to search for jobs through their system.
I arrived on a Thursday morning around 11AM. The line encircled the entire building and moved slowly. There was little distance between us and we stood outside of the building for about two hours. Bottles of hand sanitizer were available to use before entering the building. It reminded me of Disneyland for a brief moment.
Once I entered the Hello Work office, I was greeted by an energetic staff member. Everyone in the office, including the job-seekers, were wearing masks. We were told to sit two to three seats apart from each other, and the seats for the computer lab were 1 seat apart. There appeared to be no multilingual support at this Osaka branch. Many of the people in the room appeared to be elderly or recently graduated from university. Some of the job-seekers previously worked in factories or in retail.
After about an hour, it was my turn. Since my previous contract was only for six months, I was unable to receive any benefits. But the staff member who assisted me thoroughly searched and found about fifteen jobs that I could apply for. The process itself took about 10 minutes. I turned around and saw the computer lab filled to the brim with anxious job-seekers. Most of them has 0 search results, and the staff would try their best to experiment with different search entries to find a match.
Hello Work branches all over the country seem to be facing the same dilemma. For many newly unemployed residents in the Chubu region, they faced the most difficulty with their former employer. “I did not know much about the paperwork I needed to file for unemployment”, said Guillerme Okada. “At the factories, we were suddenly told that we couldn’t work anymore. I had to ask several of my friends first.” Okada had brought someone with him as an interpreter to explain to his Japanese supervisor that he needed to give documents for Okada to receive unemployment benefits. “It is a common issue with factory workers in this area. If I struggle to get legal documentation, I struggle to trust this system. I came with my interpreter to Hello Work, but there were two already available to help me. I had a lot of support from my community and from them during this time.”
Other employers would also push back start dates and avoid paying the contracted salary despite the legal 60% minimum requirement. Maria M., a Tokyo resident, would get last-minute notices and conflicting information about her start date and paycheck.
“I had already given my previous job a month’s notice and quit to start this new one. I was supposed to start during the first week of April but they changed it. It’s at a store so telework is impossible.”
About four or five days later, she was asked to Skype with the human relations chair. Her hiring date was moved to May 15th with no pay in advance. She contacted the labor bureau about her situation. “They confirmed that my company was responsible for me. My friends [who also worked at the company] said that they were receiving part of their salary in April. When I told my employer that I contacted the labor bureau, they quickly agreed to offer me part of my contracted pay.”
During these uncertain times, it may be difficult to navigate unemployment and economic stability on top of acquiring the basic necessities for surviving the pandemic. As the numbers of infected individuals steadily increase, the ratio of available job positions drop to its lowest level in three years. However, with the national and local government bringing out new sources of financial aid for individuals and businesses alike, there is room for growth in the economy and policy change.
Just published our preprint, “Association of BCG vaccination policy with prevalence and mortality of COVID-19”. We critically evaluated the hypothesis that BCG vaccination has protective effect against #COVID19, and our analyses support the idea (so far).https://t.co/3XRZWBZrPj
The whole world is somewhat baffled by how Japan is handling the coronavirus aka COVID19 aka Sars-CoV-2. The Diamond Princess debacle in which inept Japanese officials turned a cruise ship into a floating incubator for the virus did not bode well. Early on in the crisis, several politicians from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party expressed what was close to delight about the coronavirus disaster, stating that it would finally justify changing Japan’s constitution to a new one that gave the Prime Minister sweeping powers.
Japan has infamously under-tested, turning away most people who were not displaying already full-blown symptoms of coronavirus induced illness-–a fever over 37.5 degrees for four days, loss of sense of taste and smell, had been in contact someone diagnosed with the virus etc.– and has been extremely stingy in releasing information. Some suspect that Japan is hiding coronavirus cases and deaths in pneumonia statistics. Possible. Let’s assume that’s not true for the time being.
The Ministry of Health, which managed to get their own workers and medical staff infected on the Diamond Princess and then refused to test them, sending them back to work, where they infected others–doesn’t inspire confidence. The best they have done seems to be to warn people about the Three Cs (in Japanese 3の密. 密閉・密集・密接): closed spaces, crowds and close contact. Miraculously, avoiding an overlap of these three should keep you safe—until it doesn’t.
Despite having the first cases of coronavirus in January, the number of deaths in Japan remains very low, 108 today (April 12th) out of a nation of 126 million people
This week I wrote a piece for the Asia Times–TB vaccines offers hope in Covid-19 war –about studies that show a correlation between low numbers of deaths in countries that had a universal tuberculosis vaccination program for decades–and coronavirus. The vaccine is called BCG (Bacillus Calmette-Guerin). Infection rates also appear to be strongly impacted positively by the vaccine. The vaccine is nearly a hundred years old. It was developed by French physicians and biologists Léon Charles Albert Calmette and Jean-Marie Camille Guérin in the 1900s and first successfully tested in 1921. Some theorize that when the vaccine is given to very young children and/or infants, that it creates ‘attained immunity’ which helps the older generation (those most vulnerable) battle the virus. Personally, I sort of hope that it’s true, that BCG is the BFG (Big Fucking Gun) in the war against this pathogen, kind of like the iconic weapon in the first-person shooter DOOM. (It’s a video game). It has been suggested that the vaccine only works if given to very young children and that the strain of the vaccine matters as well. Could be.
NOTE: BCG vaccine has many strains (types). The BCG-Japan strain seems to be the one that actually works against the coronavirus. France uses the BCG-Denmark strain. If anyone reading this has access to materials about the BCG-Japan strain, please share them with me. I would like to know.
There are problems with the theory that BCG vaccine is a silver bullet (or a BFG). Correlation is not causation. France and England had a vaccination program but they have a high number of deaths. They also appeared to have inoculated their citizens when they were in their teens rather than as infant, and both countries use a different strain of the vaccine then the predominant one used in Asia. However, even if the BCG vaccination works/worked to prevent fatalities, is there any reason to believe it will work on adults? In the Netherlands and Australia clinical tests are underway. We shall see.
One of the joys of running this blog, with the help of others, since 2007, is that sometimes we are leaked good information that can be used to generate a solid news story. That is usually rare. The nature of the internet is that you tend to get lots of criticism, threats, accusations or wild conspiracy theories that can’t be verified. Comments are all read and edited before being posted. Many on-line sites have gotten rid of comments altogether. When I looked at the comments and letters today, I thought of doing the same….once again.
But then I read this letter below. It’s intriguing. The anonymous source asserts that they are a member of the medical community in Japan. I have edited it slightly for clarity and removed some possibly identifying details. Below the letter, I have added some notes and observations.
As the headline tells you, it is a conspiracy theory, of sorts. A “conspiracy” is usually defined as a secret plan by a group of people to do something harmful or illegal. If the writer of this letter is correct, the steps Japan has taken so far are not completely harmful. Indeed, it could be argued that testing everyone is not a great idea and that it overloads the health care system. Japan’s approach to the coronavirus has had its merits.
“The Japanese Society for Infection Prevention and Control (JSIPC) updated their coronavirus manual on March 10.
The tone is calm. “Japan is moving from containment measures to a period of spreading infection and we must adjust accordingly,” it says. Since March 6, Covid-19 testing won coverage under national health insurance – ergo, “as public money is being used for the coronavirus testing, it is necessary to carefully screen who gets tested.”
It gently chides anyone who seeks “needless” testing and urges medical professionals to prevent overcrowding at hospitals by instructing patients with light symptoms to stay home and avoid others.
Critically, it points out that since there is no specific treatment for Covid-19, the priority must be treating the illness via its pathogen causes.
“The foundation of treatment is symptomatic therapy,” the manual reads. When signs of pneumonia are found, it suggests using all possible methods of treatment, such as giving oxygen and vasopressors as necessary. Above all, it reminds medical staff of the top priority: “Protect the lives of seriously-ill patients, especially in cases of pneumonia.”“
This makes sense on some levels. However, if you don’t know who has the coronavirus, how can you possibly contain it? The manual does note that Japan has moved beyond containment measures (水際対策) and must conduct a sort of triage.
I don’t know if it’s true nor can I say it’s untrue. Don’t believe it. I have limited resources, so I’ve decided to crowdsource this. I would like to know what you, the readers, think. And if anyone has supporting data, I’d love to have it–links and documents appreciated. If you can refute it, please do. Sometimes, many minds are better than one.
Send all mail, thoughts, comments, evidence and refutations to japansubcultureresearchcenter @ gmail.com with the heading, BCG and Japan.
Some short notes and observations on the letter are at the end of the document.
Dear Mr. Adelstein,
I’m ●●●● and I’ve just been reading your report into BCG.
You’ve got the half the story, and while there are clinical issues with the variables and the science, you’re on the right track.
The other half is on the Japan side.
Have you noticed why Japanese aren’t talking about their immunity through BCG? There’s reasons for this.
Japan has invested a lot of capital into developing and selling Avigan as a coronavirus treatment. They’ve put the weight of Japan Inc behind this, and [Prime Minister] Shinzo Abe is their pitch man.
Did you notice the abrupt change in Abe’s policy around the end of February? That’s because Japanese researchers and doctors, including my colleagues, became aware at that time that BCG vaccines were possibly also working with the immune systems of most Japanese under age 70. NDAs (non-disclosure agreements) and MHLW [Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare] policies prohibit researchers and doctors from speaking publicly about this. But this is well-known in the medical community here.
What’s not understood is whether BCG is protecting children in the same way. We don’t have enough scientific or anecdotal evidence to rule out tuberculosis vaccine in Japan with confidence, especially because of the large number of foreign workers and tourists from at-risk countries, or whether BCG is working properly in tandem with other vaccinations in Japan. In layman’s terms, the younger generation of children in Japan don’t have the same immune system as the older generation. While we have decades of data about the health of the older generation, we still have insufficient clinical data about kids who haven’t been alive long enough to build up a reliable data base.
In the field of medicine, you can’t make a diagnosis or prescribe treatment based on anecdotes or hunches. We have to follow regulations and existing practices based on years worth of data and peer-reviewed studies. We simply can’t assume that BCG is protecting children from the novel coronavirus. Thus the medical community instructed Abe to protect these children as a preventive measure owing to the lack of available data on how their immune system would respond to Sars-CoV-2.
This also gave Abe and the MHLW political cover. Instead of doing nothing, they had to do something (1) . Abe couldn’t publicly announce that BCG was protecting the innoculated population of Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. As you know, Abe is beholden to Keidanren (経団連・Japan Business Federation) and companies such as Fujifilm Holdings and their subsidiary Toyama Chemical, which manufactures Avigan (3). Who is going to buy Avigan if all they have to do is buy BCG? Why should Japan promote Avigan if most Japanese don’t need it? That is their reasoning. This is all about the sale of Avigan. (5)
This also explains why Japan was resisting international pressure to postpone the Summer Olympics. Abe and his panel of experts were assuming that BCG was protecting most of the population from the novel coronavirus. They had to cancel the games because of foreign pressure and the International Olympic Commission (IOC) (4), not because of any concerns about an overshoot of cases here in Japan.
There’s another issue that the media are overlooking. Japan now has millions of foreign residents and foreign tourists who didn’t get BCG shots. They are the most likely groups to acquire the novel coronavirus and spread it through the population in Japan. But Abe couldn’t say that due to policies of boosting tourist arrivals and preparing for the Olympics. Even if you think he’s a racist xenophobe, you have to credit him for respecting the rights of foreign COVID patients. Look at what China is doing with Africans, and you’ll understand Japan’s official thinking on this.
This also explains the Ministry of Health policy of keeping people away from hospitals (2). We don’t want people with colds, H1N1, ordinary coughs or sniffles to show up at hospitals demanding swabs, which also put health care workers at risk. They should stay home and rest anyway. MHLW set up a hotline for this purpose. If they didn’t, half of Japan would demand a test claiming to be sick. In most cases, patients with real COVID19 symptoms aren’t going to die anyways if they had their mandatory BCG vaccinations. Japan only wants to treat the most severe cases while protecting medical workers from infection. This is a reasonable policy. Most doctors support this, though some feel that we should be more proactive with outreach programs and advocacy on behalf of patients.
Try to see things from our perspective. We are watching more than a hundred doctors and nurses die in Italy. We saw the same thing in Wuhan. This scenario is Japan would serve nobody. It’s not selfish for us to protect ourselves. It’s good public health policy, and Japan is doing the right thing.
Please understand that the science isn’t black and white on this. Just because Japan made BCG shots mandatory doesn’t mean that every doctor gave them out, or that every parent took their kid to the doctor for the shot. Millions of people fell through the cracks and didn’t get vaccinated for TB, especially in the 1950s and 60s when Japan’s health care system was evolving. That’s why you are seeing numbers rise now, though on a much smaller level than in the U.S. or Italy. Most of the new cases now are people who didn’t get BCG shots. This is the common view of medical practitioners here.
This is especially true of patients in areas such as Taito-ku, which is the closest thing in Tokyo to Skid Row in LA. Many of these new patients are homeless, or they were born into impoverished families who didn’t vaccinate their children. You will see similar stories in impoverished areas of Osaka and other cities. Look at the data and you will find it.
(4) It would appear that after the Olympic Games were postponed that suddenly the number of Covid-19 cases jumped considerably. Correlation perhaps. Governor Yuriko Koike, who had been remarkably silent about the dangers of coronavirus, suddenly began talking about ‘a lockdown’ and the need for hyper vigilance with the pathogen only after March 23rd.
5) The Japanese government, including our friends at the Ministry Of Health, have conspired in the past to keep important medical data away from the public. The result was many innocent people being infected with AIDS and dying. Green Cross was the beneficiary and some of their executives were convicted of criminal negligence resulting in death. Government officials basically walked. See below and research more if you’re interested. Green Cross Executives receive prison terms in Yakugai (薬害エイズ) case.
While noting that there is a possibility that German citizens might be entirely banned from entering Japan, the letter urges German citizens to exercise caution in coming to the country or staying. It notes that “For Germans and other EU citizens, visa-free travel to Japan is suspended until the end of April . New applications are possible, but the granting of visas is restricted.”
The most interesting passage is below. The brevity and beauty of the German language makes it a wonderfully chilling dense read.
“Das Infektionsrisiko in Japan ist nicht seriös einzuschätzen. Von einer hohen Dunkelziffer von Infektionen, bedingt durch die geringe Zahl durchgeführter Tests, ist auszugehen. COVID-19 Testmöglichkeiten gibt es weiterhin nur für bereits schwer erkrankte Personen (Symptome und 4 Tage hohes Fieber) und für Personen mit anderweitigem Anfangsverdacht (Kontakt zu Infizierten, Aufenthalte in Risikogebieten)”
It could be translated several ways. Please feel free to submit your own translation!
Here is one interpretation/translation by a German scholar.
“The [stated] risk of infection [from coronavirus] in Japan cannot be believed. A high number of non-reported cases can be expected, due to the low rate of testing. The possibility of being tested for the coronavirus continue only to be available for those who are very sick (four days of high fever) and for persons with other risk factors (contact to others infected, [those who have stayed] stay in high-risk areas.”
The first sentences strictly translated reads as follows:
“The risk of infection in Japan cannot be assessed seriously. It can be assumed that there are high number of unreported infections due to the small number of tests carried out.”
In the first line, “Nicht serious” can be translated as “not serious”–as in untruthful, mendacious.
Let us further translate the full two paragraphs above from diplomatic understatement to colloquial English.
“Japan is lying. No one can fucking believe what they’re saying, because how can they know if they don’t test? They are barely testing. They only test you if you meet super-stringent criteria. We’re going to see a surge in the numbers if they ever get off their asses and actually test people for the disease. Assume (auszugehen) there a lot of coronavirus carriers out there in Japan.”
My Social Studies teachers used to say, “You should never ‘assume’ because it makes an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me'”, but in this case we are all assuming the German Embassy in Tokyo is correct. As of March 2nd, Japan averaged 72 tests for coronavirus per million. Korea averaged 4099.
Things have slightly improved, as of March 20th, Japan had moved up to 117.8 corona virus tests per million people. Have a look at the chart—it’s an abysmal figure. You might mistake it for a visual representation of Japan’s gender equality ranking, which ranks at an all-time low of 121 out of 153 companies. In a positive sense, if sexual discrimination was something to be proud of, Japan would be in the top tier.
Everybody knows in Japan there’s no visible coronavirus epidemic because Japan generally doesn’t test people for it. It’s an obstacle course designed to prevent you from reaching the goal line of getting tested and possibly embarrassing the nation by making infection rates higher.
On March 18th, the Japan Medical Association announced that there were 290 cases of doctors deciding that a patient needed to be tested for coronavirus, and even then the patients were not tested. The term used by JMA “不適切事例” literally translated means “inappropriate/unsuitable cases”.
The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe seemed intent on keeping the official numbers of infected down and that means not only making the standards for getting a test very high (for example, you must have a fever of over 37.5 degrees Celsius for four days) but it also seems to be actively discouraging tests.
Why was Japan so gung-ho on not testing people? Mostly because Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his work-spouse, the incredibly opportunistic Governor Yuriko Koike, had feverish Olympic dreams, and wanted Japan to appear safe in the hopes of keeping the Tokyo 2020 Olympics on track. As soon as the Olympics were postponed (within 24 hours) Koike made a huge show of appearing decisive, warned of a spike in coronavirus cases, and asked citizens to stay home on the weekend. She warned of a possible lockdown.
What an amazing coincidence! Everything was fine until the Olympics were postponed and suddenly Japan woke up to a hidden coronavirus epidemic. Imagine that!
Another reason that testing has lagged behind is that some in the the medical profession in Japan believe that testing for the virus is a waste of taxpayer money. The rationale is that since you can’t cure the virus itself, you’re better off treating the symptoms–aka 対症療法. Have a read of the Manual For Responding To Coronavirus Infections at Medical Institutions (医療機関における新型コロナウイルス感染症への対応ガイド) (March 10th Edition) from the Japanese Society for Infection Prevention and Control, for further insight.
The Japanese approach so far is not completely without merit. Japan has avoided a total lockdown and hospitals are not yet over capacity. The manual notes that Japan has essentially moved past the point where containment is possible and now is in a period of widespread infection. If you give up on the idea of containing the virus, then it does make sense to put priority on saving the lives of the small percentage of people who become seriously ill after being infected. Up to 80% of those infected barely become ill.
The German Embassy isn’t saying anything outrageous; it’s just the facts, Fraulein. More than likely once people notice, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will shake their heads, possibly complain and the wording will change.
You can change the wording but you can’t change the truth.
Japan, under the catastrophic leadership of Prime Minister Abe, has been keeping the numbers of the infected down by not testing widely for the disease. NHK, which has in part, become a channel of state propaganda, duly reports on new cases of infection by first mentioning cases in which the infected caught the virus overseas, playing into a mythos of the problem coming from outside Japan. Meanwhile, the majority of new infections come from within Japan.
The Japanese government bears a huge responsibility for the spread of the virus within the country. The February 19 decision to let infected Japanese passengers leave the Diamond Princess cruise ship and go home by public transport, effectively distributed the virus nationwide. Was anyone surprised that later those who went home, supposedly cleared of infection, later started getting ill?
The poor quarantine protocols on the ship also resulted in over ten Ministry Of Health, Labor and Welfare worker becoming infected with the coronavirus. They were all sent straight back to work. The Ministry of Health refused at first to even test the workers. Then grudgingly tested 41. Then all of them.
We can probably assume that the Ministry of Health itself, in charge of dealing with the coronavirus, is full of infected employees. We can assume but we can’t know because just like The US Embassy in Tokyo, the Ministry basically refuses (or refused to) test workers who had been exposed to the coronavirus. In fact, as a microcosm of the problem, this article published on March 4th, A U.S. Embassy Refused to Test Exposed Staff for Coronavirus (more or less) correctly predicted the chaos to come in the United States.
Many politicians in the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan, including Prime Minister Abe, early on in the crisis, actually welcomed the coronavirus. They felt it would give them the impetus to change the constitution. Maybe they really do have a master plan to fuck things up so badly that the only way out is to give them what they want.
The virus has just jumped from one ship, the Diamond Princess, to another larger ship, as it were, the island nation of Japan.
As you read this, we are on the verge of an epidemic here and headed toward disaster; figuratively speaking, the captain is asleep at the wheel. The sailors are inexperienced. The passengers are getting sick, and some have already died.
And the answer given by those running the show? They say what they need is more command and control, a better ability to lock things down, stronger laws to make people keep quiet.
They’ve already fixing their “great experiment” to show no matter how much they do wrong, they are always right.
On March 18th, the Japan Medical Association announced that there were 290 cases of doctors deciding that a patient needed to be tested for coronavirus, and even then the patients were not tested. The term used by JMA “不適切事例” literally translated means “inappropriate/unsuitable cases”.
The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe seems intent on keeping the official numbers of infected down and that means not only making the standards for getting a test very high (for example, you must have a fever of over 37.5 degrees Celsius for four days) but it also seems to be actively discouraging tests.
Nathalie Kyoko-Stucky interviewed one woman who was denied testing in Tokyo. This is her story.
Patient Zero, age 31 is a project manager in Japan working for an IT firm. She asked for her name to be omitted and some details of her story obscured for fear of being stigmatized socially. She lives in Tokyo.
“I started to feel very tired March 7th and had a low fever of 37.2. Thought i was just tired from work. On Monday, I felt really tired at work and on Tuesday, I struggled to go to the office and only stayed 2 hours and came home. Tuesday night, I started to get a cough and by 10pm I felt i was getting sick and my fever was 37.5 degrees.
Wednesday morning I woke up feeling sick and extremely tired and had a fever of 38 degrees.
Over the next few days, I stayed in bed sick. I started feeling a pain in my chest and it was getting painful to breathe. On Saturday, I called the Coronavirus hotline because by that point I had fever over 37.5 for 4 days.
I called them because I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to go to a normal hospital and accidentally spread it so I called for advice.
The lady told me that the Shinagawa Healthcare Center (品川保健所）is closed on the weekend, and I should call them on Monday when they opened. But, she said if I became sicker, I should just go to the hospital.
On Sunday there was still no improvement. I had pneumonia when I was in high school and my body felt similar to that time so I was a bit worried. So I called the hospital and told them my story and that at the minimum I wanted an x-ray. They told me, “Okay please come in.”
At the hospital they asked if I went to an onsen, had overseas travel, or if was in direct contact with a COVID-19 patient. I said no.
Luckily my x-ray came back clear for pneumonia, but the doctor diagnosed me with pleurisy.
Note:(Pleurisy (PLOOR-ih-see) is a condition in which the pleura — two large, thin layers of tissue that separate the lungs from the chest wall — becomes inflamed. Also called pleuritis, pleurisy causes sharp chest pain (pleuritic pain) that worsens during breathing.It can be caused by viral infections, pneumonia and other conditions
I felt the doctor was kind but his hands were tied.
On Monday, my fever was will going between 37.5-38, and my boyfriend called the health care center. It took hours to get through because the phone line was always busy.
After getting through to someone and explaining the situation, the women answering the phone said she can’t authorize a test because I have not traveled abroad and I have no direct contact with a COVID19 patient.
Her advice was, ” If it is still bad or gets worse in a few days, go back to the hospital and beg the doctor himself to call the healthcare center and request a test for me.
At that point I realized it’s impossible to get a test. I didn’t want to risk going outside and accidentally infecting someone.
Unfortunately, the part which is most frustrating for me now is that I don’t know if I actually have it or not.I was considering trying to go back to the US to help my mother who is in her seventies, but I cannot risk going back and spreading it to her.
Luckily today, on March 21, it was the first day that I haven’t had a fever since March 7. I lost my voice and talking still irritates my lungs but most of the chest pain is gone.
So I had fever for 14 days. It’s very surreal.
I was so surprised why they set up the hotline to call, but advice from both numbers was “just to go the hospital”.
I expected they would tell me where to go for example or perhaps advise me to stay home in quarantine.
What’s the point of a hotline if the advice is “just go to the hospital”?
Personally that made me feel like there is not much fear about it spreading in the medical establishment. This worries me.
Also as a side note, I had been extra careful , carrying hand sanitizer everywhere I went and also never was outside without a mask. I even was using taxis the majority of the time to avoid the train.
This is just one example of a person who most likely should have been tested for the virus and was not. If you have experienced something similar, please write us with the heading CVTESTS at firstname.lastname@example.org
A priority item on the agenda of the first Shogun of Japan, Tokugawa Iyeyasu when he seized power in 1603, was to limit foreign travel to Japan. He issued several orders like the ones we’re seeing around the world at this moment: urging the Japanese to stay put in their own communities and urging all foreigners to get the hell out. By foreigners, Iyeyasu specifically meant the European missionaries who were spreading ideas – like a virus! – about an omnipotent God that transcended traditional Japanese values. They also extolled the virtues of non-violence and giving to the poor; two factors that the new Shogun viewed as particularly harmful to his authority. The ‘aliens’ had to go, and those who didn’t, were eventually executed or banished to Dejima Island, off the coast of Nagasaki. Iyeyasu’s son and grandson tightened the screws on the lockdown as they in turn, became the Shogun. Japan effectively bolted its doors to the outside world and Sakoku*・鎖国(shutting down the country)’ went into effect.
Initially, other clan lords were skeptical about this sakoku thing. Before Iyeyasu came along, Japan had a fairly robust import/export system, supported by a prosperous merchant class in Osaka. Without inbound travelers and foreign business, these merchants were sunk, as was the burgeoning currency economy. But Iyeyasu shrugged off their complaints and worries. He chose reclusive isolation over commerce and progress, and for the next 265 years, Japan became a ‘hikikomori (shut-in)’ in the global community. Everything passed us by: the Industrial Revolution and the locomotive, colonialism and corsets, Mozart and coffee, the printing press and chocolate. Everything.
*Writer’s Note – Contrary to the belief that the Tokugawa Shogunate coined the term ‘sakoku’ which literally means a ‘country in chains,’ it was actually invented by German explorer Engelbert Kaempfer in the late 17th century and later translated into Japanese.
In the meantime, the Japanese got a lot of practice on keeping calm and carrying on behind closed doors, in spite of or because of everything happening in the larger world. Sure, sakoku sucked in a hundred ways but it also created a uniquely weird culture that continues to enthrall or amuse people all over the world. Iyeyasu’s capital city of Edo – now called Tokyo, was a haven of stability and prosperity with an unparalleled ecological and recycling system.
The sakoku mind-set made all this possible – a willful and deliberate closing of the shutters to the outside world while making sure that plenty went on inside. Call it aloofness, coldness or a thick-skinned pragmatism. In times like this, such traits can come in pretty handy.
You may have heard that the Japanese aren’t very expressive – well that’s just not true. The Japanese are THE LEAST expressive people in Asia which probably makes us the most rigid people on the planet. Long before this virus thing the Japanese have been wearing masks – as a prevention against all ills including a bad skin day and questionable breath. The mask was also fashionable among teenage girls, as hiding their mouths made them feel more attractive. (Kissing with masks was a real thing in the early aughts too, because many young couples deemed it erotic.) We were also adamant about washing hands, gargling and refusing to eat off communal plates.
Smiling and laughing in public, talking to strangers, physical displays of affection – these things are normal in western cultures but they’ve never taken off here unless it became a fad. Like being friendly to foreigners and embracing diversity was a fad that many Japanese felt pressured into doing because hey, globalism and the Olympics 2020. But now COVID-19 has given the Japanese a very good reason to go back to the way we were. Unrelenting, inexpressive, rigid and distanced. It’s all cool. Show me a person with a secret stash of face masks and 30 rolls of toilet paper and I’ll show you a model Japanese citizen.
As for touching one another, it’s a whole other issue unto itself. The Japanese just don’t do this, and never had. Though many of us love the idea of casual cheek kisses a la Francaise, we just couldn’t muster the courage to try it on a Tokyo street. Now, we don’t have to pretend anymore. Social distancing may be a new and scary concept for the west but to us, it’s very familiar, like our parents to whom we pay the obligatory visit over New Year’s.
Speaking of which, I don’t ever remember being hugged by my late father, who devoted much of his life to wedging a good, 1.7 meter distance between himself and the rest of the world. It wasn’t just him of course, many Japanese males can’t bring themselves to get close to anyone they know, which paradoxically explains why there’s so much groping on the trains. But the virus has resolved that snag–what with schools closed and people ordered to work remotely, the morning trains are far less crowded and consist mostly of masked salarymen clutching phones with one hand and briefcases in the other, studiously avoiding all eye and physical contact.
You might say the Japanese are good at this. There is little of the sense of deprivation and loneliness that say, an American person might feel about the loss of casual physical contact. We’re not touching, we’re not smiling, but who’s to say we’re not having fun underneath our face masks?
Editor’s Note: And judging by the hanami crowds this weekend and in accordance with the Ministry of Health’s “Let’s go outside!” admonitions, it seems like Japan’s 鎖国（sakoku ) period may end very soon.
Just for the record, while big concerts and public events are not happening, there’s still plenty going on in Tokyo and most restaurants and department stores have stayed open. Other venues include:
1) Shinjuku Gyoen Park Located in Sendagaya, this place is heavenly for a stroll among the greenery and themed gardens.
Unanswerable questions of the year: Is Japan really going to war? Is Japan’s peacetime constitution going to be trashed by the ruling party and returned back to the Imperial Constitution, which did not give suffrage or equal rights to women?
This question will be on the mind and haunt your waking hours after reading “The Only Woman in the Room” by Beate Sirota Gordon. In this memoir, she takes us through the various events in her life made remarkable by the fact that in late 1945, she became a member on the US Occupation team that drew up Japan’s National Constitution. Not only was she the only woman in the room, she was just 22 years old.
Her passport said she was an American citizen, but Beate Sirota had lived for 10 years in Akasaka, Tokyo with her Russian Jewish parents (her father Leo Sirota was a celebrated musician from Vienna and a close friend of Kosaku Yamada). For the past five years, she had been in the US while her parents had been in detention in Karuizawa. The only way to catch a plane out of America and into a ravaged, defeated Japan to see them again, was to get a job in the army. Beate’s Japan experience and the fact that she could speak, write, and read with fluency got her that position.
“The Only Woman in the Room” is honest, plain and straightforward – written not by a professional author but an extremely well-bred, cultured woman who had forged a career for herself in a time when women – even in America – were expected to marry, have babies and sink themselves in domestic bliss. Or just sink. Across the Pacific, American women her age were sizing up future husbands at cocktail parties. Beate was commuting from Kanda Kaikan to Occupation headquarters and working on the constitution 10 to 12 hours a day. She often skipped meals, since food was scarce and the work was so pressing. Her male colleagues pushed themselves harder and put in more hours – and Beate mentions that she admired and respected them for that. Her tone is never feminist, probably because she comes from a generation told to revere males and elders. Besides, she grew up in Japan where women shut their mouths and looked down when a male spoke to them, and that was exactly what she did when she first landed in Atsugi and an official asked to see her passport.
On the other hand, though her tone is consistently soft and modest, her voice is clearly her own – and when it’s time to stand up for the Japanese and their rights, she apparently didn’t give an inch. What an ally the Japanese had in Beate, especially Japanese women whom she describes in the book and in interviews she gave later on: “Japanese women are treated like chattels, bought and sold on a whim.”
Rather than change the whole world, Beate wanted to contribute to the building of a modernized Japanese society. Rather than yell out for women’s’ rights and organizing feminist rallies, she sought to raise awareness about the historical plight of Japanese women and children. And just as earnestly, she wished to help her parents, in particular her mother, who was suffering from severe malnutrition. Beate wasn’t a saint nor interested in being one. Without meaning to, she came pretty close. Her prose is never condescending, nor does it brim with self-congratulations as in the case of many memoirs. She had a story to tell and she told it and as far as she was concerned, when the story was over there was no reason for fuss or lingering.
After the army stint, Beate Sirota Gordon returned with her parents to the US in 1948, married a former colleague in the Army and later worked as the director of the Asia Society and Japan Society in New York. She continued to give interviews about her work on the Constitution but only because she felt that the peace clause (the controversial Article 9) had to be defended repeatedly. She venerated her parents and remained very close to her mother until her death, while raising a family of her own, because family and love were precious and she knew first-hand the tragedy of losing them.
What culminates from her memoirs is her selflessness. Helping others, being fair, and maintaining a striking modesty in spite of her many accomplishments were the defining factors of Beate’s life. She died in 2012 from pancreatic cancer, four months after the death of her husband Joseph Gordon. The Asahi Shimbun printed an extensive obituary on the front page, lauding her work and reminding the readers how the Constitution had protected Japan all these decades, for better or worse. Mostly for the better.
We in Japan tend to take the Constitution for granted. Many people remember and harp on the deprivation of the war years but few bother to recall the dismal details of everyday life before that. Women couldn’t go to school; they were expected to serve their parents and male siblings before marrying into households where she continued to serve and slave her husband and his clan. These women brought up their sons in the traditional way – which resulted in an unending circle of entitlement and arrogance for men, and toil and servitude for females. In poor families, parents sold off their children. Soldiers and military policemen detained ordinary citizens on the slightest suspicion and beat them during interrogation. They were responsible for committing unspeakable atrocities in China and Korea.
There was happiness, peace, equality, and respect in the Sirota household when Beate was growing up, but she knew too well how the average Japanese in Japan fared; how women and children were cut off from beauty, culture, or anything out of the familial box. She wanted a magic wand that would somehow change all that, and her idealistic, 22-year old mind told her that if she couldn’t get a wand, the Constitution was bound to be the next best thing. The task was daunting – she was working for peace and gender equality in a country steeped in tradition and ‘bushido’ feudalism. At this point in 1945, not even American women had gender equality and there she was, giving her all to ensuring that Japanese women would get that right. And just for the reason, there wasn’t nor has there ever been, anything in the American Constitution that resembles Japan’s Article 9.
At the end of the book is an elegy by Beate’s son and part of it goes like this: “Your legacy is the art of living in beauty and truth, of speaking up and out for what is right, and of finding our best selves and sharing them.”
As of March 1st, Japan has already seen more than 900 people get infected by the deadly coronavirus. To avoid contributing to the spread, many businesses have decided to suspend operations; schools in some prefectures are closing for a couple of weeks.
Naturally, you might wonder how you are going to survive all of March if your employer suddenly cancels some or all of your shifts. This has happened to a number of teachers already. Here is a guideline which summarizes everything you need to know to still receive your salary.
If you were Hired by Board of Education and Teaching at Public Schools
If you are employed by a board of education, teaching language classes, or working for a public school in any way, you should contact your employer (it would most likely be the prefectural board of education) and ask whether you will still be guaranteed your March salary. Essentially, it’s up to your employer (board of education) whether to continue to pay for the classes you were forced to miss. The Tokyo Board of Education has decided that part-time lecturers/teachers would still be guaranteed the same amount they would have received even if schools are closed due to coronavirus. (授業がないと給与が払われない？ 一斉休校による「非正規」教員への影響)
Remember, this particular rule only applies if you work for a public school and are employed by a board of education. Thus, assistant language teachers (ALTs) who are employed by dispatching agencies do not have to worry about contacting their local board of education.
If you are NOT employed by a board of education, then this is what you have to know. Unless it is you who decided not to go to work, due to various reasons–such as the fear you might get infected commuting–you should still be paid for the time missed. It does not matter if you are working full-time or part-time, whether you work as a regular employee (seishain) or on a temporary, fixed-term contractor (hi-seiki), every worker has the right to receive the full amount.
No matter what the reasoning behind closing operations temporarily, employers must pay at least 60 percent of your salary if they tell employees not to show up. Article 26 of the Labor Standards Act which states that “in the event of an absence from work for reasons attributable to the Employer, the Employer shall pay an allowance equal to at least 60 percent of the Worker’s average Wage to each Worker concerned during said period of absence from work.”
For example, your March shifts had already been set, and you had ten days/shifts, 8 hours a day, in March, and your hourly wage is 2000 Yen, for a total of 160,000 Yen. Your employer canceled all of your shifts because of the coronavirus. You should still be able to receive at least 60 percent of that 160,000 Yen which is 96,000 Yen, according to the Labor Standards Act, no matter what your employer tells you or what the reason for closing the company operations.
On top of that, 60 percent is the absolute minimum that your employer must pay to avoid being persecuted for violating the Labor Standards Act. You have the right to demand that your employer pay 100 percent of your missed salary since it was not your fault that you could not work. It might not be your employer’s fault that the coronavirus is spreading so rapidly and we are in a total chaos (Japan Shows Coronavirus May Be a Gift—for Would-Be Dictators https://www.thedailybeast.com/japans-coronavirus-cruise-ship-debacle-shows-epidemic-can-be-a-gift-for-would-be-dictators?ref=author) , but what matters in receiving renumerations is that it was your employer (and not you) who told you not to come to work.
In order to still receive your salary, make sure to keep track of your missed shifts (dates, hours) and calculate how much you ended up not getting paid. When your March payday comes, and you find out your employer did not bank transfer your March salary, then you can write a letter to your employer demanding that it pay your March salary. If your employer still decides not to compensate, then you can go to the labor standards office, which oversees the district where your workplace is (not where your company headquarters is) and have an officer investigate.
Or you can contact labor NGOs or labor unions for assistance. There’s a labor NGO called Posse, which is running a coronavirus hotline for foreign workers on March 4thfrom 5 pm to 8 pm, offering legal advice in English free of charge (WE ARE STARTING A CORONAVIRUS (COVID-19) HOTLINE FOR FOREIGN WORKERS! https://blog.goo.ne.jp/posse_blog/e/0125cd742806a2d9b201bbae5d7c29b1).
What if the company wants you to come, but you don’t want to show up?
You have two options. The first option is to use your annual paid leave. Article 39 of the Labor Standards Act guarantees ALL workers that you are entitled to receive at least a day of paid leave after working for the same employer for six months. If you work full time, then you should have at least ten days per year after six months of being employed by the same employer. The chart on page 42 tells you how many days of paid holidays you should have (https://www.hataraku.metro.tokyo.jp/sodan/siryo/29-5rodojikan.pdf) and you could have more if your contract states otherwise. You have the right to decide when you want to use your annual paid leave. It would be illegal for your employer to restrict you from using your paid leave.
The second option is to apply for a benefit called “shou byou teate kin (傷病手当金)”. You can receive a payment from your health insurance provider if you are sick and have to take more than three consecutive days away from work. You need to have missed your paycheck and have to have your doctor fill in the paperwork to receive a payment, which guarantees you get 67 percent of your monthly salary.
What if You Are Infected with Coronavirus during Work?
This might be the worst-case scenario, but if you are (or if you think you are) infected with the coronavirus during work, you should apply for workplace injury compensation (Industrial Accident Compensation Insurance is the official English translation of the Japanese term, rosai 労災). It’s up to the labor standards office to determine whether your infection is work-related or not, but if it does so, you should receive free medical services, and 80 percent of your salary is guaranteed. For the 20 percent of your salary the insurance does not cover, you have the right to demand your employer to cover that part since it is a workplace injury. No employer can terminate a contract of an employee who is taking a leave due to workplace injury.
See Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare: Industrial Accident Compensation Insurance Guideline for Foreign Workers
So what should you do if your employer tells you not to come? First, you should make sure to keep track of how many days or hours you are forced to miss. If you use an online calendar in which your employer can delete your shifts easily, make sure to take a screenshot of your schedule before your shifts get removed. Then you should demand your employer to still pay for the time missed. If you are not sure about what to do, there are several NGOs and labor unions which you can contact in English. There’s Tokyo General Union (https://tokyogeneralunion.org/), which mainly organizes language school teachers, and there’s Posse (https://foreignworkersupport.wixsite.com/mysite/english), a labor NGO working on behalf of foreign/migrant workers.
(This post is based on the material published in the article written first in Japanese by a labor activist/researcher Haruki Konno. Some parts of the original material are modified. If you are looking for similar information in Japanese, please refer to the link below)