I never imagined COVID-19 was widespread all over the world very quickly in a short time and infected and killed a large number of innocent people. When the cluster infections of passengers in a cruise ship at Yokohama port were discovered in February, I just wondered that we could manage to converge the case without critical issues in Japan, however, its infection power and speed were completely beyond our imagination.
We have also been at risk, and our daily life has drastically changed after an emergency declaration by the Japanese Government on April 8th, and it canceled all over the country on May 25th. We do not have such strict rock down like other countries for these 2 months, but we have to refrain from going outside especially downtown, working at the office, and gathering with people. It made a great impact on our daily life. I would like to write about how our life changed and what kind of difficulties we are facing right now. It may not be a unique case of Japan and you may find them as common issues.
Promoted Teleworking by Government and Organizations
Of course, several essential workers cannot work at home, the Japanese Government strongly recommended that companies try their employees to do teleworking due to keeping distance among people. So, most companies limited the number of employees working at the office and forced them to switch to teleworking at home after the declaration. Not all companies including major firms were ready for changing to teleworking, so it must be chaos for them to prepare for it.
In my case, I was waiting at home without working in April and started teleworking in May, and it was just 1 time that I went to my office for these 2 months to pick up my laptop PC. At first, most of Japanese companies and workers imagined it seems impossible to do because of network lines shortage and classic paper-based business. However, we could do it unexpectedly if we needed it. We just did not try before by giving some reasons why we cannot do it. Although we have online meetings among team and co-workers via ZOOM/Microsoft TEAMS and other video conference applications frequently, I don’t feel any problem for communications so far other than bad internet connections sometimes and taking more time compared when having a face-to-face meeting.
If I point out the inconvenience of teleworking, it happens when all of the family members have to stay at home in a small house. It doesn’t have any problem if all members have their own room to work for, however, if not, we have to share the same space with several members. For example, in my case, both my husband and I are teleworking, and we have to share the same living room. He usually has lots of phone calls from customers and a few online meetings in a day, so it sometimes bothers me when I have some work that requires concentration or online meetings at the same timing. Moreover, in the case of the working couples with small kids, I heard that it is difficult to concentrate on their work and to keep productivity when caring for kids at the same time (Schools/ kindergartens were closed for 2 months and kids basically had to stay home. Nurseries didn’t receive kids except for essential workers who had to go to work). Staying and working at home for a longer period with family members makes us stressed in some cases.
But overall, teleworking will bring us a more flexible working style. It has been proved during these 2 months that companies can be managed even if employees don’t stay at the office 5 days a week. I read online news that some companies which have their office in downtown are in big cities are considering to move smaller office in a suburb with cheaper rent fees because all employees no longer need to stay at the same space to work with, and this tendency will be drive after COVID-19. As for housing, my friend who is living in cities is also considering moving out for a suburb with a better environment because there is no reason to live there other than short commuting time if they don’t need to go office every day. Probably, we will keep teleworking a few days in a week at least after the cancellation of the emergency declaration and the Japanese way of working style will the greatest change after the COVID-19 pandemic. makes us stressed in some cases.
Serious damage to various industries in Japan
Needless to say, it is not only a tragedy in Japan but all over the world, hotels, restaurants, airplanes, entertainments, taxi and tourist buses, department stores, and retailers’ shops… they have been facing severe financial difficulties by stopping people’s movement in society. Financial supports from the government are not sufficient at all, however, they are trying to tackle the difficulties with various ideas.
For example, sales of almost all hotels have been drastically dropping since March due to both domestic and international tourist’s decline. Some newspapers reported sales of hotels in Japan in April was a 90% decrease in year-on-year. Therefore, some hotels are providing special packages at reasonable prices for healthcare workers and business people for teleworking. As for healthcare workers, hotels are trying to meet their needs that they prefer to be apart from their family due to not infected the virus just in case and would like to stay rooms near their hospitals/medical institutions due to their hard work. As for office workers, they provide rooms for teleworking as monthly, weekly, and even daily use. As I said, some workers are struggling with the working environment at home, which leads to low productivity for that. Hotel rooms are suitable under the situation for teleworking because each room is isolated with a comfortable desk and chair, free wi-fi connected, without disturbance in case of video conferences. The plan is mainly for business accounts; however, it is a nice idea of a win-win situation if companies can support them.
Restaurants and bars were not prohibited to open, but they were limited to open from 5 am to 8 pm in case of Tokyo by the cancellation of emergency declaration. Especially, bars usually open at night had a great negative impact on their sales because of limited open hours and not people’s out. So, many restaurants and bars started to take out service at lunchtime and delivery services. Of course, takeout and delivery service are not enough for them, and they still need to face difficulties after the cancel of the declaration because they have to reduce by more than half of customers to keep social distance among people even they can open longer hours. However, they are trying to cope with the hardship of COVID-19 by thinning out seats and having a transparent partition board between customers, the staff’s wearing a mask and face shield, introducing remote customer services by automatic iPad order system, avoiding food sharing style among people.
Transportation service is not an exception. Especially, sightseeing buses and taxis are suffering from drastically decreasing customers after shutting down international travelers. Unfortunately, some of them bankrupted by the impact on COVID-19, but others are also trying to survive by some new ideas. For instance, taxi companies started to support food delivery services instead of on having passengers, and also home delivery shopping service for elder people who cannot go out.
As for public transportation, packed trains during rush hour in a large city in Japan is a well-known scene. Many passengers are doing off-peak commuting; however, it is a higher risk for infection to each other where we cannot keep distance in case we have lots of passengers. Therefore, the number of people who bought a bicycle or bike commuters is increasing after COVID-19 among office workers.
Why the number of Japanese dead by COVID-19 is relatively smaller in the world?
At first, Japan’s response against COVID-19 in March and April was criticized by other countries that our countermeasure was too late, too loose, and too few PCR tests for people who may be positive. In April, the number of infected people increased rapidly, and of course, we were afraid of the virus pandemic and collapse of the medical care system like some European countries and NY, because we didn’t have strict city’s lock-down and we could not keep social distance among people completely… However, the number of infected people was going slow down just before Golden Week (Special long holidays in Japan) and it became less than 100 people a day in nationwide at the last week in May, and the total number of infected people is around 17,000 and the number of deaths is around 900 as of May 31st. Especially, the number of deaths is fairly few even we have a larger population and higher density in a small land compared to other countries. Some media in other countries reported its phenomenon as called “Japan’s mystery”.
Actually, we don’t even know why we were able to control the infection more or less this time. I am wondering what is the clue of it? (FYI, I don’t think the response of the Japanese government against COVID-19 was excellent at all and I was extremely disappointed with their inability under the emergency situation.)
It is said that we have already kept social distance among people in daily life. For example, we usually vow each other as a greeting and seldom handshake or hug like western countries, so we have fewer opportunities to touch each other directly. In addition to this, we usually take off our shoes at the entrance, so that it may be difficult to bring the virus into our house, and we also have a habit of washing our hands and gargling soon after coming home, because we were trained to do by parents since our childhood. Moreover, we have always been comfortable for wearing masks in public (Please refer to the episode uploaded before about mask). Some people pointed out that such a Japanese lifestyle which has already established and our high sense of public sanity helped to prevent spreading out the virus and getting severe the symptoms (Please refer to the other episode about our sense of sanity).
I also found some interesting information and suppositions that people who got preventive vaccination called BCG for tuberculosis may be less likely to get COVID-19 (BCG vaccination is obligatory for Japanese and I also got it in my childhood) and East Asian people may have a stronger gene in COVID-19 originally…however, we still don’t know what is the truth and need more investigations.
What I can do from now on?
I realized that we need to seek “new normal” of our lifestyle through the COVID-19 pandemic, at least until new vaccination is developed. My lifestyle has changed a little since the virus pandemic that I don’t commute to the office every day, work at home 3 days a week, do “Radio Gymnastics” every morning due to eliminating lack of exercise, take care of flowers at my veranda, always wear a mask at public spaces, seldom go to the crowded places with people, and don’t eat out with groups… I fell the current life is quite boring sometimes, but I pointed out as good points of new normal life that I re-connected with several of the old friends of my student days, and I am having online chat meetings with them periodically.
We have to stand the current situation for a while until the pandemic has settled down. It is challenging for us to cope with the difficulties, but I believe that we can overcome the problem by adjusting our life along with environmental changing like the proverb by Charles Darwin, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change”. This is what we have to do now. I am just wondering that how our life will be changed a year later…