It’s all too easy to get caught up in political jargon and statistics and forget the people that they allude to. In our other blog about everything about the Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic situation in Japan, we covered the “political jargon and statistics”, and in this one, we want to share what do people think about the situation of coronavirus in Japan, why doesn’t Japan have a higher number of cases, testing in Japan and the steps they are taking individually. 

What precautions have people taken?

According to a survey that we conducted, here are some of the main precautions that people in Japan have taken in order to prevent coronavirus in Japan. 

Wearing masks

What do people think about coronavirus COVID-19 in Japan masks
What do people think about coronavirus/COVID-19 in Japan? Why doesn’t Japan have a higher number of cases?

A majority of the population are wearing masks and a sizable number of people who panicked and stocked up on masks have left little to none for everyone else. Masks are almost impossible to buy these days. 

Working from home

While they are few in numbers, some have begun working from home and it is believed that more people will start to do so now that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has declared a state of emergency. 

Avoiding crowded places as much as possible

What do people think about coronavirus COVID-19 in Japan empty streets
What do people think about coronavirus/COVID-19 in Japan? Why doesn’t Japan have a higher number of cases?

Once bustling neighbourhoods such as Shibuya, Shinjuku and Harajuku are now like ghost towns. People still pass through these areas to get to work or for other essential activities, but beyond that, these areas are largely empty, with no one visiting restaurants, bars, stores, karaoke joints or other entertainment establishments which people typically visit these areas for. 

Wash/sanitise hands

Many establishments now provide hand sanitisers at their entrances for the few customers they get. 

Protect immune systems

As alcohol consumption and sleep deprivation weakens one’s immune system, people have been avoiding drinking alcohol and trying to sleep more. 

Cancel travel plans

What do people think about coronavirus COVID-19 in Japan travel plans
What do people think about coronavirus/COVID-19 in Japan? Why doesn’t Japan have a higher number of cases?

In an effort to reduce the risk of contracting the virus, people have cancelled their travel plans, both international and domestic, so as to avoid being stuck on a bus or airplane with others. 

Stocked up on essential food and groceries

While residents are allowed to leave their homes for food or medicine, many have decided to stock up on groceries, medicine and other essential items to minimise the number of times they have to leave their homes. 

Distancing physically from others, especially elderlies

People are attempting to keep their distance from one another, sitting in every other train seat or standing apart more so than usual. 

Are Japanese people worried about COVID-19? 

What do people think about coronavirus COVID-19 in Japan aging population
What do people think about coronavirus/COVID-19 in Japan? Why doesn’t Japan have a higher number of cases?

Japan has an aging population, one of the most dire in the world. 33% of the population is above the age of 60, 25.9% above the age of 65, and 12.5% above the age of 75. We know that the elderly are most at risk of COVID-19 as they have weaker immune systems, and Japan, with its high number of elderly persons, stands to face high numbers of COVID-19 fatalities.

Some express anger towards younger individuals who aren’t taking the pandemic seriously and who aren’t practicing good hygiene or social distancing. The author of this tweet comments scathingly that those who believe they are young and impervious, and who thus act recklessly, are in some ways murdering the elderly, as they can still transmit the virus to them. 

Some schools in certain prefectures are operating as per usual. Over 19,000 people’s signatures were collected, petitioning for schools in Hyogo prefecture to close. Since then, the schools have delayed their starting day till the 19th April.

The author of this tweet expresses his/her confusion as to why schools are being reopened. He/she emphasises that while there may not be many cases in his/her prefecture at the moment, that may change soon.

Ken Shimura, a famous Japanese comedian, passed away due to COVID-19, and his death was a wakeup call to many.

There are some who don’t think the COVID-19 pandemic is an issue at all and believe that, because they are young, they will be fine. 

Some believe that the mass media in Japan has been downplaying the effects of COVID-19, and are calling for people to take it more seriously. 

People have voiced their opinions, many people want Japan to call for state of emergency

How is the government handling the situation? 

As mentioned above, the Japanese government has been criticised as slow and inefficient when it comes to handling this pandemic. We asked foreigners what they think and why they think that, and what they believe the Japanese government should be doing. 

“I think the Japanese government is woefully unprepared. Prior to the Olympics being postponed, they were clearly under-testing in the hopes of keeping the games on schedule. Since the postponement, they have shown that they lack leadership skills, do not know how to tackle the issue, and seem to think that they and their people are immune purely on the basis of being Japanese. Money and a thriving economy will always be more important than the lives of citizens, and the government doesn’t want to look as though they are ‘out of control’ so therefore feel that business as usual is the best way to proceed.”

– Caitlin from the UK

They are being very irresponsible and setting a terrible example even in previous press conferences where there are many people in a room, not everyone was wearing masks. [Prime Minister] Abe said last week that some schools should open in April but would have to take precautions like “opening windows.” It’s laughable. Even now, in Shinagawa Station there was no soap in the bathrooms. They should be requiring bars, restaurants, etc. to close, and making sure that as many people can work from home as is possible. It can’t just be “advice”—they need to take action and prioritise people’s health rather than the economy. They need to test as much as they can and release the data. 

– Clara, half Irish, half Japanese

Very mixed feelings. I do believe that more testing should be done in Japan, but at the same time I understand that testing for “non-essential” cases is just going to overwhelm medical facilities that should be focusing their resources and energy on treating those who are severely ill. However, I strongly believe that the Japanese government should impose much stricter rules on shutting down non-essential establishments (bars and clubs are still open for example

– Julia, half Swedish, half Japanese

Some are skeptical of the steps the government has taken—or lack thereof—and are questioning their competency.   

Some are frustrated that the government is downplaying the effects of coronavirus.

Many people are mocking Abe’s policy of providing two masks to each household, questioning the policy’s efficiency. Many memes and comics regarding this are circling the Internet.

Some sympathise with the government and think that social media and the mass media have contributed to the fear and miscommunication.

Some appreciate the financial support for small and medium-sized enterprises with minimal interest rates.

Why doesn’t Japan have a higher number of cases? 

Because of Japanese culture and the societal practice of social distancing? 

What do people think about coronavirus COVID-19 in Japan Japanese culture
What do people think about coronavirus/COVID-19 in Japan? Why doesn’t Japan have a higher number of cases?

The Japanese government’s handling of the pandemic has been criticised as slow and inefficient and, yet, Japan has few confirmed cases of COVID-19 per capita. This may in part be due to certain parts of Japanese culture. 

First, cleanliness. Japan is one of the cleanest and most hygienic countries in the world. There’s very little litter on the streets, and public facilities and public transportation are thoroughly cleaned and managed. 

Social distancing which has become widespread around the world already existed in some ways in Japan, before the outbreak. Japanese people usually greet one another with bows, nods or waves as opposed to handshakes or hugs. Even when you pay in restaurants or other establishments, you typically put your money on a tray rather than in the other person’s hand. 

What do people think about coronavirus COVID-19 in Japan masks in Japan
What do people think about coronavirus/COVID-19 in Japan? Why doesn’t Japan have a higher number of cases?

Wearing masks, now also widespread across the world, was already common in Japan, especially during this time in spring as a number of people in Japan are prone to hay fever. 

It has been influenza season, and Japan tends to have higher vaccination rates and control measures that also helped limit Covid-19 spread. 

Though Japan was one of the first few countries to have confirmed cases of COVID-19, the government was slow to take action. Thankfully, other countries were not. South Koreans and Chinese people from China are the majority of tourists in Japan and they were barred by their governments from leaving their countries due to a lockdown. This drastically reduced the number of people entering Japan, and helped slow down the spread of COVID-19. 

Is Japan testing? 

What do people think about coronavirus COVID-19 in Japan japan testing
What do people think about coronavirus/COVID-19 in Japan? Why doesn’t Japan have a higher number of cases?

The polymerase chain reaction test, PCR test, is the test used to test for coronavirus in Japan. The capacity of Japan has reached around 6,000 samples per day with the cooperation of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases, various quarantine stations, public health institutes, private-sector screening companies, and universities. It is expected to exceed 8,000 per day by the end of March. On 6 April, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared that Japan will increase its capacity for the coronavirus tests to 20,000 per day.

However, it is apparent that only 13,026 tests have been conducted, far below the capability of Japan. 

The process of testing is as following: 

To get tested in Japan, you have to exhibit the following symptoms or experiences: 

1. A fever
2. Come into contact with someone who has tested positive or been overseas
3. Having trouble breathing

A local consultation hotline is available for people to call and communicate their symptoms to, and possibly get tested for coronavirus in Japan. Those who have tested positive or have serious symptoms are hospitalised. Those with no symptoms or mild symptoms are asked to stay at home or checked into an isolated accommodation facility. 

This graph shows the steps to be taken when symptoms manifest. Some have said that the process is long and complicated, others point out that many conditions have to be met before testing is even considered.

According to the Tokyo COVID-19 Information website, 1,116 people have tested positive. 4,484 people have been tested, 6,062 tests have been conducted. 31,338 inquiries have been made to the Tokyo Novel Coronavirus Call Center, and 58,540 inquiries have been made to the Novel Coronavirus Hotline. 

That’s a total of 89,758 inquiries only to the hotlines, not including those that seek attention directly in clinics and hospitals and 4,484 people have been tested. That’s just under 5% of inquirers getting tested. 

Other figures show that over 97% of people in Tokyo that asked to be tested for coronavirus were rejected. 

Many people have expressed difficulty in getting tested. On Twitter, countless accounts have told their stories and expressed their frustration about their attempts to get tested in Japan. 

One Twitter user began showing symptoms on 16 February; he had a sore throat, a 38.8 degree fever, severe headaches and green phlegm. He was unable to speak and had been coughing for more than a month. Even with a fever lasting at least a week and a half, he was unable to get tested. When he visited a hospital, he was told that it wasn’t necessary for him to get tested, even with his symptoms, as 80% of those infected with COVID-19 would recover on their own. 

This Twitter user had a slight fever for two weeks, difficulty breathing and a cough. After calling the health center, she was referred to and rejected by seven bronchial clinics. She managed to secure a pneumonia test after calling the health center again. She expresses her dismay that the health center refused to test her initially. Five days later (almost three weeks after she’d first shown symptoms), she was diagnosed with  a cold. 

The funeral agency has sent out a letter to all employees that handle caskets. The letter states that as there are many victims who passed from “untested” pneumonia, they are to handle the bodies as if they were infected with COVID-19. 

Here are more cases of people not being able to get tested: 

It is clear that a lot of people that have shown symptoms, want to get tested, need to get tested aren’t able to get the PCR tests. Some might say that Japan has dodge a bullet but some are not so optimistic. Why doesn’t Japan have a higher number of cases? Let us know in the comments below.

Japanese abbreviated words in temple

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Is Japan too late to the game? How much worse will things get before they get better? Time will tell. We are constantly providing latest updates in our blog, which we will link in the description box down below. 

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FLIP Guide Team

FLIP Guide Team

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The FLIP Guide team has discovered many hidden places in Japan, and has learned about numerous parts of Japanese society, and we are excited to share our knowledge with you!