A view on COVID-19 from Japan

As the global response to COVID-19 ramps up, the Asia Media Centre takes a look at Kiwis on the ground in Asia and how they're dealing with it. Here's Corey Wallace, currently based in Japan.

After 12 years away, including the last four in Berlin, I moved back to Japan in late-December. I immediately wondered what I had walked into as I arrived at my new family home in Yokohama, a port city in Kanagawa Prefecture right next to Tokyo.

A hitherto unseen coronavirus variant was already making headlines across the East China Sea in Hubei province, while the spectre of a potentially record-breaking influenza season was already menacing Japan.

Not long after, the first Japanese death from COVID-19—a local Kanagawa resident—was reported while the now infamous Diamond Princess cruise ship pulled into Yokohama harbour not that far from my residence. 

nagatoshi shimamura ZLjMqugKoDA unsplash 2Yokohama is one of the largest cities in Japan and is the capital of the Kanagawa Prefecture. Photo by Nagatoshi Shimamura on Unsplash

Not too long after that, most Japanese schools decided to close.

Fast forward, things are still on edge here, but nothing like the situations seen in other countries.

There are daily reports of new cases and deaths from COVID-19, and clusters have formed in certain cities in Japan. But things do not yet appear to have spun out of control.

The early cancellation of most major outdoor events that would be a high risk for transmission has likely helped. Likewise, the closing of schools and other indoor facilities and businesses that would result in the forming of the dreaded corona cluster.

In fact, the flu season was cut off at its knees as influenza cases and hospitalizations dropped to less than one-half of the previous year’s numbers for January and February despite initially trending at four times the 2019 season!

In terms of daily life, you cannot avoid discussion of jishuku (自粛)—self-restraint—on Japanese television. How do we do it? How long will we have to do it for? Have we become complacent and tired of it? The resident teenager is not in the slightest bit concerned about having to observe self-restraint by staying home from school to read books and play Nintendo Switch.

CoreyCorey Wallace moved to Yokohama, Japan late last year with his family. Photo: Corey Wallace/Supplied

Jishuku is, however, a greater challenge for the three-year-old in the house, and therefore, his parents. All of the indoor play areas are closed, and soon after the three-year-old got his first taste, so too was Tokyo Disney.

Luckily, Yokohama has many various parks with open spaces that we have taken full advantage of as a family the weather warms up.

There are, so far, no restrictions on being outside which is more than a minor mercy for entertaining a toddler. As it was, I was already in jishuku mode—I had a three-month gap between my previous job and my new job at Kanagawa University here in Yokohama.

No salary and no work have meant that we have collectively been uniquely positioned to negotiate this period!

Like everyone else everywhere else, we are still apprehensive of what comes next.

There is no room for complacency, even for those countries and regions that have avoided the worst so far. For myself, as a political scientist, the current moment truly does feel like a historical inflection point. Reflecting on what it will all mean for global economic and geopolitical relations will have to wait, however. As everyone back home goes into lockdown, I hope you all stay safe. 

- Asia Media Centre