It’s happened. The COVID19 infection which started in China and seemed so distant, has now touched almost every country in the world. Some are handling it better than others, like Taiwan for instance. They have managed to contain the viral spread extremely well (195 as of the writing of this article) and keep toilet paper on their shelves! Move to the US and it’s a different story, with wide-spread panic fully setting in. In stark contrast, the scene in Japan has been relatively calm.
How Japan has managed to maintain its calm
The Japanese are without fail, rule-keepers. It is something that is so ingrained, that most locals can’t even contemplate not following the rules and guidelines outlined by the Japanese government in the wake of this pandemic. It also helps that in Japanese culture, physical contact is scarce. For example, people will bow instead of shake hands. The country also has a large number of residents who already live a reclusive life. These hikikomori exist apart from society, holed up in apartments, and were self-isolating long before it was trending on social media!
The country did go through a spate of empty toilet paper shelves; but grocery stores are still fully stocked and you’re not likely to go hungry. Stores are encouraging the use of hand sanitiser with bottles available at shop entrances; commuters and service workers are wearing face masks (which is quite common in Japan anyway); and all buildings where a large number of people would typically gather remain closed. A population that has very clearly been affected in Japan’s students.
An innovative way of coping
A number of children are no doubt rejoicing at the closing of schools; however, for some the move is somewhat bitter-sweet. March is year-end in Japan and the time when students celebrate moving on in life with graduation. With these celebrations being called off, one elementary school student came up with an innovative solution – a virtual graduation ceremony hosted on Minecraft. Complete with a stage and decorations, students were still able to celebrate this milestone, albeit in an atypical fashion. It’s not only graduation halls which have gone quiet; it’s some of Japan’s biggest tourist sites.
Japan’s most popular temples and shrines are ghost towns
If there are two places in Japan that you’d struggle not to find packed with tourists at any hour of the day, it’s Sensoji and Fushimi Inari. The first is Tokyo’s oldest temple and walking through its grounds usually requires skillfully dodging through crowds of visitors. You’d also be hard-pressed to find a gap long enough to take a people-free photo in front of the red gates of Fushimi Inari. Now, however, visitors have plenty of time to enjoy these sites at a pace much slower than the norm. Although tourism has shown a sharp decline, local residents seem to be taking advantage of the lack of crowds.
Locals are out in full force
Japan has seen relatively low infection rates and as we hit cherry blossom season, locals are hesitant to forgo this yearly tradition despite precautions and warning. Friends and families are still coming out to enjoy hanami – free of tourists for the first time in a number of years!
As spring comes, we are reminded of new beginnings. Japan will bounce back, as will most countries. The COVID19 pandemic will be left in the past and we will all move onto new beginnings. But while we wait, let’s keep calm, work with each other, and get through this whole thing together.