I’d rather be alive and broke than dead and still in a functioning economy. In recent days as this whole new reality, this bizarre world of social distancing and quarantines and complete and total lockdowns, this thought has become a light sort of mantra, the general idea being that the economic sacrifice of shutting down restaurants, offices, and retail outlets to quell the spread of this new deadly virus (the result, I always finding myself thinking, of some dude somewhere in China deciding eating undercooked bat meat was a good idea) would be worth it in the sheer number of lives saved. Japan, it turns out, seems to operating under the complete opposite doctrine.
Really I’d compare living in current bizzaro state-of-emergency-in-name-only Japan after watching things unfold (badly, it should be said) around the world to watching Jaws and knowing that there’s a giant rabid shark (can sharks get rabies?) swimming in the water where those teenagers are gonna try to get it on. Since Prime Minister Abe declared a State of “Emergency” earlier this week, it’s become abundantly clear that what he had in mind lies somewhere between an “Emergency” in name only and some oddball reinforcement of the tried-and-true nihonjinron concept of Japan being safe from the worst of the coronavirus outbreak simply by being Japan. Yes, it is the 21st century and, yes, just like the rest of the world, Japan is still being run by morons.
Perhaps the most encouraging thing about the last several weeks and the incredible institutional dumbness on display has been the Japanese public’s reaction. Yes, there are your typical idiots who show up on TV (I’m looking at you man on the street who went viral after saying that you’d dance the coronavirus away in the club) and there are your usual hardheaded ultra-conservative white-collar jijiis out there who are (a) refusing to work from home, (b) have hamstrung their company’s ability to work from home with years of antiquated office policies (fax machines and old-fashioned ink seals are still a thing here), or (c) are absolutely refusing to acknowledge that coronavirus is even a thing and still going out for drinks with their kohai after work. BUT on social media, the ire and righteous frustration with the Abe government and its amazing ability to handle the pandemic in the worst way possible while somehow thus far avoiding avoiding disastrous consequences was been far greater than I can remember it being at any other time in my life in Japan. From memes about Shinzo Abe’s plan to send every household in Japan TWO reuseable masks regardless of how many people are living there or whether or not that would qualify as a worthy use of taxpayer money to strongly worded anti-government tweets, Japan seems to actually care about their government for once. I know it doesn’t seem like much for those of you whose Twitter timelines are pretty much just 75% tweets about Trump but on typically frivolous Japanese Twitter this is virtually Antifa.
These are hard times and things are probably only going to get harder around the world but if you’re reading this somewhere aside from Japan, just take comfort in this: by the time Japan finally gets its act together, your country will probably already be in the clear.