How was Japan Able to Contain its Cases & Death Rate? Diving into American vs Japanese Culture in Relation to Pandemic Response

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How Was Japan Able to Contain its Cases & Death Rate? – Diving Into American vs Japanese Culture in Relation to Pandemic Response

Japanese vs American Pandemic Response

Japan sets a global leadership example with their collective response to pandemic mask mandates and guidelines

A brief history of the COVID-19 outbreak in Japan:

The number of positive cases in Japan during the Chinese New Year holiday (Feburary 2020) started increasing due to tourists from China visiting Japan and Japanese people returning to Japan from countries with severe outbreaks toward the beginning of spring. On April 7th 2020 Japan’s situation became so severe that the government decided to announce a state of emergency in seven prefectures (Tokyo, Chiba, Saitama, Kanagawa, Osaka, Hyogo, and Fukuoka); later spreading onto the whole country on April 16th of 2020.

Japan’s densely populated cities, large elderly population, and close proximity to China – the source of the outbreak – put them as one of the highest risk countries. The Diamond Princess cruise liner incident (quarantined in Yokohama) initially reported positive cases of COVID-19 in February 2020; as of March 17th, 2020 a total of 712 passengers out of the 3711 total passengers became infected.  The Tokyo area alone has a population of 37 million, the main means of transportation being famously crowded trains. If Japan was so likely to be one of the countries worst affected by the virus, what played into their mysteriously low virus death rate? 

American anti-mask rally in Pennsylvania [2]
Rush hour at Shinagawa station Tokyo, Japan/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Anti-stay-at-home order rally in Olympia, Washington. Karen Ducey / Stringer

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Japan’s culture; 民度- Mindo.

Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso, says it is the “excellent nature” of the Japanese. When foreign leaders asked for Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso to explain Japan’s [in comparison] successful covid response, “the level of people’s citizenship is different from that of our country, Between your country and our country, Mindo (the level of people) is different.”
With the amount of backlash from these comments, it is only fair to have pride in your country and people for their cooperative collectivist culture.
Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso later publicly rehashed that in using the word mindo, he was not denigrating foreign countries. Simply his words were with praising intent, Japanese people’s uniformity to social distancing requests, mask mandates, and so on. Japan has had a much lower per capita rate of COVID-19 fatalities than many other countries.
(Data provided through the FastAlert real-time COVID-19 Data data service from JX Press Data from April 2021)
Japanese people have been wearing masks long before the coronavirus pandemic struck. For medical reasons and to conform with the norms of society. Masks are primarily worn to protect the wearer from inhaling pollen as a high percentage of Japanese suffers from hay fever.
Mask-wearing by the sick has often been recognized as a bona fide preventative method ever since Spanish Flu. The Japanese neoliberal national ideal of a “normal” citizen is promoted to be “self-responsible”  and “self-caring.” Japanese health policies herald a culture of individual accountability and rational subjectivity. In a cultural climate like japan’s the discourse of self-responsibility and teamwork is taught from an early age. From an early age [students] are expected to keep their classroom and home environments clean and healthy. The same ideology following in the workplace. In a professional setting, mask-wearing emphasizes the responsibility of the individual for their health becoming a disciplinary device in neoliberal politics.

Who is not wearing masks?
Research from the University of Southern California Dornslife and the SESR shows that 83% of most U.S. adults view wearing a mask as an effective way to stay safe from COVID-19, American mask-wearing behavior is very inconsistent. The large difference in engaged high-risk activities and race and locale play a role in these inconsistencies. In a survey conducted by the Center for Economic and Social Research, in early December, two-thirds of Americans reported being in close contact (within less than 6 feet) with people outside their household. Only about HALF of them said they mostly or always wore a mask while doing so.

I interviewed a friend of my grandmother who asks to stay anonymous. She was born in Kobe and came to the states for work in her late twenties and has been here ever since. We discussed the difference between Japanese and American’s views on following mask mandates.

“I think Japanese culture puts a lot of pressure for its people to conform and work together. When moving to America, I learned “all man for himself” mindset was very popular. Some anti-maskers believe it is a violation of their personal rights. Or that it threatens their freedom by asking something as simple as protecting their country.”

So much for patriotism.

“[They think] if you wear a mask, you are not strong in thinking the virus can hurt you. Or, if you are sick you can wear a mask but I am healthy so I will not.”

 Hundreds of anti-maskers gathered at the State Capitol in August. Rallying for ‘government overreach’ over Gov. Tony Evers’ mask mandate.
Please participate in my survey on mask-wearing during the pandemic:

Call To Action- How Can We Prevent The Anti-Mask Movement?
What are masks? Why do we even need to wear them? I’m not sick so why should I wear a mask?
Masks are effective as a “source control,” preventing larger expelled droplets from evaporating into smaller droplets that travel farther. They allow you to be around people without the risk (but not eliminating) of community transmission. Respiratory droplets are stopped by a barricade, how good that barricade relies on the mask and its ability to block them. A medical grade surgical mask for example is safer than the popular fashion sponge mask.
See a study conducted by the University of San Francisco on the use of masks by the general public to impede
COVID-19 transmission.
Not only does wearing masks create a physical barrier between you and the virus (or another person), but masks also creates legroom between spikes of cases and slows down spread growth. Compared the COVID-19 virus’s growth rate before and after mask mandates in 15 states. A study shows that that mask mandates led to a slowdown in daily COVID-19 growth rate, becoming more apparent over time. 

While some anti-maskers choose to be ignorant, others may not have had the opportunity to learn about masks. Share videos, articles and any media that is easy to grab evidence from. There is no shortage of studies especially because we are still in a pandemic. Just because it has been over a year, doesn’t mean it’s over.

Sources and Works Cited


1 comment

  1. This topic is really interesting! Thanks for informing us about how difference cultural norms affect mask wearing!

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