Fear of public shaming helps Japan avoid Covid

Fear of public shaming helps Japan avoid Covid

The commuters at Shibuya Station in Tokyo in late June. Social conformity has been a key factor in Japan's success against Covid.

The country has never mandated masks or vaccinations, but it has evaded the worst of Covid thanks to a fear of public shaming and self restraint police. TOKYO - To understand how Japan has fared better than most of the world in containing the dire consequences of the coronavirus epidemic, consider Mika Yanagihara, who went shopping for flowers in central Tokyo this past week. Even when walking outside in temperatures in the mid-90 s, she kept the lower half of her face fully covered. People will stare at you, Ms. Yanagihara, 33, said, explaining why she didn't dare take off her mask. Pressure is there. Japan's death rate of Covid, just one-twelfth of that in the United States, is the lowest among the world's wealthiest nations. Japan has had one of the world's lowest infection rates despite the fact that it has the world's third largest economy and 11th largest population.

The average daily cases have fallen to just 12 per 100,000 residents - about a third of the average in the United States - a government survey showed that close to 80 percent of people working in offices or enrolled in school wear masks and about 90 percent do so when using public transit. Movie theaters, sports stadiums and shopping malls require that visitors wear masks, and for the most part, people comply. The term face pants has become a buzzword, implying that dropping a mask would be as embarrassing as taking off one's underwear in public.

Many factors have undoubtedly contributed to Japan's coronaviruses outcomes, including a nationalized health care system and severe border controls that have outlasted those in many other countries. Social conformity and a fear of public shaming, which is instilled from the youngest ages, have been a key ingredient in Japan's relative success in Covid prevention, experts say. Japanese law does not allow the government to order lockdowns or vaccines, unlike in many other countries. The majority of the population followed each other in heeding the advice of scientific experts who encouraged people to wear masks and avoid situations where they would be in enclosed, unventilated areas with large crowds.

In Japan, if you tell people to look right, they will all look right," said Kazunari Onishi, an associate professor of public health at St. Luke's International University in Tokyo. Dr. Onishi said that being influenced by others and not thinking for yourself is a bad thing. He said it was a good thing during the Pandemic. Unlike in the United States, wearing a mask or getting a vaccine never became an ideological litmus test. The public has put pragmatism over politics in the approach to Covid, despite the fact that trust in government has fallen during the epidemic.

Those who tried to buck the guidance were subject to public condemnation. Toshio Date, who runs a venue in Osaka devoted to the board games Go and shogi, initially tried to stay open when the city requested that restaurants, bars and other entertainment businesses be shut down. When local television stations started asking to film the club as an outlier, Mr. 58, got the message and closed quickly. Even after infections settled down in Osaka, which recorded the highest death rate in Japan, and businesses reopened, he said strangers often scolded him for hosting too many customers. The government has given carrots in the form of economic subsidies for businesses, although the public has provided most of the sticks.