Where is the coronavirus in Japan? It seems to play ‘hide and seek’

by Haruna Wada

Unlike the rest of the world, Japan has been keeping low coronavirus mortality rate, as well as the number of infected patients. I have been wondering why is it so?

COVID-19 is now a world pandemic, but the situation in Japan is not as bad as most of the developed countries. Newspapers across the world have hypothesized it in different angles.

The first angle is that COVID-19 has been hidden by the Japanese government.  Some journalists are assuming that the Japanese government is covering the true number of virus infected patients because of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. If Abe, prime minster of Japan officially declares that 2020 Tokyo Olympic will be cancelled, Japanese’s economy will be badly damaged. An economic expert says that cancelling 2020 Tokyo Olympics make 1 percent drop off on GDP. But now, the government has officially declared that the 2020 Tokyo Olympics postponed so there is no benefit in hiding the number of cases.

The second angle is that COVID-19 has been hidden by people who are not being tested.  The number of COVID-19 diagnostic test in Japan is 20 times fewer than in South Korea.  One of the reasons this could be is Japan’s medical institutions only test severe patients so minor cases won’t be reported. If those minor cases are able to count, outbreak of COVID19 could hit Japan soon. In fact, alarmingly the number of cases is increasing so now is the time for government to switch compulsory house lockdown for a couple of weeks like the UK.

The final angle is COVID-19 has been hiding behind the Japanese greeting. One of the infection routes of COVID-19 is human contact and this means that the greeting moment such as people are talking, hugging, and shaking hands has a higher risk of catching COVID-19. For instance, the UK prime minster, Boris Johnson is now infected. Before he catches COVID-19, he was in hospital and encouraging virus patients by shaking hands, presumably greatly increasing his chances of contracting COVID-19.

Today, many countries declare the state of emergency due to COVID-19, however not Japan, perhaps in the future, Japan also will take the same decision, but not yet. Seeing this phenomenon, some experts hypothesize that Japanese way of greeting is the key to not spreading the virus. Japanese do not hug or kiss when they meet each other, even family members, good friends, and colleagues. So then how do they greet? Just making a bow when they see each other or waving hands with keeping at least one meter.

So then how do they express their emotions or politeness? There are three types of bows. Firstly, 15-degree bow, this is the most standard way so many people do it day to day.  Secondly, 30-degree bow, this shows respect so employees do so when they meet their employer. Thirdly, 45 to 90-degree bow, this shows feeling of sorry, sorrow, and something done undone. Roughly, those are the most common ways of greeting in Japan. As you can see, there are no physical contact! If Boris Johnson showed his greeting by the Japanese way, he would not have been infected. Definitely, the bow is keeping COVID-19 at a respectable distance!

However, because infections have been low, people – and the government – have relaxed their watch and the rate of infection has gone up as fast and the temperature. With spring’s warm temperatures, more people have been going out and enjoying the cherry blossoms, which is another tradition where people go out and picnic under the trees. Except this tradition might bring more than seasonal allergies …

Talking about Japanese culture to avoid catching COVID-19, there would be another Japanese tradition that might be the prevention and it is a mask. Japanese tend to wear a mask in their daily life. Women say that when they do not have enough time to put makeup on their face in the morning, a mask is vital tool to hide their face. On the other hand, men say that when they do not have time to shave their beard in the morning, a mask is handy to hide their face. Unlike other nations, Japanese are very used to wearing a mask even though they are not necessary. This habit possibly helping not to spread COVID-19 in Japan.

Haruna Wada lived in Montreal for seven years and met her Montreal “mum” Daniele Dubois, at a flower shop where she worked from 2009 to 2014. She has been living in Tokyo for four years. She is studying at Hosei University where she is entering her fourth year of Law school.

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