April 6th, COVID19 Update

IMG_3093Today was the first day that schools rep-opened in Japan after over a month of being closed. Shinzo Abe is “officially preparing” to declare a state of emergency. Until now it felt like they must have been officially preparing to officially prepare this declaration. When I first heard this I welcomed this as long overdue news, but now we’ve learned that this will only apply to densely-populated prefectures and that it will imply no lockdown. This is simply an enforcement of the way things already are more than a disruption and I feel that it ignores basic principles of human migration and the fact that many people commute across prefectures.

It has been very frustrating seeing how little Japan has put a collective effort into staying home and social distancing. They haven’t even translated this word that the rest of the world now holds as a mantra into katakana. I suppose the logic is that if there is no word for it then nobody has to do it.

It all feels like an attempt to save the economy. First from the Olympics crashing, and now just general decline. If the disease spread throughout Japan though, the effects would be far more damaging. Coverups seem to be the way disasters are handled in Japan.

It really is a shame, because I feel that in the entire world there is no country and people better at coming together and solving collective task when a challenge and a pathway to the goal has been set in place. Japanese society cooperates and follows agreed-upon rules better than any other system I’ve ever seen on this planet. In regards to COVID19, however, the people of Japan have seemed to find this as an opportunity for Japanese exceptionalism. They are acting is if Japan is immune to this, and the highest officials in Japan are furthering the spinning of this daydream.

It is true that compared to other countries, Japan is much better off. Japan has the highest rate of hospital beds per population by far, and the same is true for imaging technologies. I’m very grateful to be here and to have Japanese health insurance available should I need it. I don’t know what I’d be doing if I was still in NYC. It is simply unbelievable how bad things have gotten there.

In trying to prevent this from happening in Japan I’m trying to avoid events and not meet with people unless absolutely necessary, but trying to explain this to coworkers and friends here makes me feel like I’m from another planet. There seems to be the rest of the world, and Japan. Japan has decided that this issue isn’t serious and you’re ostracised if you’re operating under a different mindset.

There’s also an attitude in Japan that the spread of disease is something that just can’t be helped. It’s a force of nature that humans are less powerful than and we are at nature’s whim. Because of this, people continue to go out in droves to view the cherry blossoms, shop in stores, and play in parks enjoying the nice weather. Shoganai. Although I do prefer humbling worldviews where humans are a part of nature and that the planet is more powerful than our species, the fact is that we are not leaves blowing in the wind and there most absolutely are things we can do to prevent the spread of disease. The same attitude was taken in Japan after the 3/11 disaster in Fukushima. It was a horrible tragedy that claimed the lives of tens of thousands. Nobody could help the fact that a earthquake and tsunami took place. Researches did know and warn for years, however, that there was precedent for these natural disasters at Fukushima and strongly cautioned that bigger storm barriers should have been built or that a  nuclear reactors should not have existed there in the first place. Expressing this attitude that human beings are accountable, however, will put you on the fringes of society.  Nobody remembers alternate histories to what could have been. Society just remembers what happened and copes with its losses.

Moving forward from here, the cases in Tokyo seem to be rising daily. The numbers are still very small compared to other countries, however Japan is purposefully not testing as much as other nations. Part of this is to skew data, but another part is in the logic that bringing people into hospitals to get tested could further spread the infection.

My girlfriend and I try not to go out as much as possible and carry with us a bottle of hand sanitizer by the brand name of Clefil that we spray into our hands every time we return to our car. Clefil has become a new verb for us that we use every day. When we get home we have adopted extreme decontamination rituals of disinfecting everything we had with us on the outside, shedding our outer layers of clothing, and immediately showering. We are not far from wearing aluminum foil caps on our heads. It is hard to believe it has come to this.

Until today, we hadn’t seen a mask or bottle of hand sanitizer for sale since February. There was one exception. I saw one bottle in a drug store a few weeks ago the same time another woman did. We made eye contact, she looked at the bottle, and then we looked back at each-other. Suddenly, she ran for the bottle, grabbed it, and took it running to the cashier. It has come to this.

Today we drove by a different drugstore and saw a line snaking around waiting for the store to open well over an hour before opening. After doing our shopping in another area we came back and figured we’d try our luck at joining and to just see how things felt on the ground. Everyone was waiting patiently and the staff had set up a system where one stood at the door admitting people slowly one my one, where they then proceeded to a display where they could pick up one bottle of hand sanitizer and one pack of masks per person, and then snake around to pay at the register. There was a very old woman behind us who seemed to just want to talk to a stranger. It felt like she must have been very desperate for human contact if she was willing to seek this form of contact through random foreigners.  The whole scene there that day felt made me feel like I was witnessing history. If things get worse we might talk about this in the same way of what it was like in the soup lines of The Great Depression or in the Soviet Bloc near the end of the Soviet Union. My 96 year-old grandmother told me on the phone the other day that this was the strangest thing she ever lived through.  Visiting this drug store and standinf in line for a single pack of race masks and a tiny bottle of hand sanitizer made me feel like we’re only a fine line away from total chaos. Maybe it is the relatively low death rate of COVID-19. Maybe it is that supply chains are still stable and that the hospitals here are not yet overwhelmed. If any of these factors change though, it feels like all hell could break loose.

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