Pandemic Lessons from Japan: A Tradition of Considering Others

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      It was not forever. Eventually schools reopened, events resumed, and the economy did not collapse. But I’ll forever remember how on a national level, so many people could come together for a moment to show support. There was fear and uncertainty, yes, but it didn’t turn Japanese society against each other—the rich did not host lavish parties, and the reckless did not go on looting sprees to capitalize on others misfortune. Staying at home and keeping quiet wasn’t oppression of freedom, but a personal choice in consideration of others.

      As a result of these efforts over several months, a sense of normalcy has returned to Japan. Masks are worn in public and major events are still on hold, but people are able to safely enjoy eating out, going shopping, and regularly meeting friends and family in safe and distanced conditions. As of writing, there have been a total of 1716 COVID-19 deaths in Japan, or total COVID-19 deaths per million stands at 13.56. For comparison, the U.S. has a total death rate of 685.69 per million residents.

      I don’t need to further point out how Japan’s reality differs from other democratic and developed, high-income societies. This isn’t meant to be an evaluation of cultures, to deem one better than the other, but what I’ve seen in Japan has proven to me that a successful coronavirus containment doesn’t mean having to give up personal freedom or liberty: there was no forced government lockdown or threatening fines for breaking social distancing rules, and Japan’s citizens choose how they’d like to live their day to day. Stay at home or go out? Wear a mask or leave it at home?

      Japanese jishuku has shown me that there’s a certain powerfulness to cultures that have traditions of sharing consideration and support during times of crisis, and I hope citizens of other nations can see it as so too. I love the freedom of expression and sense of individualism my upbringing in the United States has instilled in me, but with freedom comes responsibility, and to ignore this responsibility is not an act of exercising this right, but a choice that threatens it.

      Jesus: Hey, Dad? God: Yes, Son? Jesus: Western civilization followed me home. Can I keep it? God: Certainly not! And put it down this minute--you don't know where it's been! Tom Robbins in Another Roadside Attraction

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