Opinion: Commentary: Japanese Experience: Distancing Ingrained in Culture

Opinion: Commentary: Japanese Experience: Distancing Ingrained in Culture


Lucy Chen

Lucy Chen, 17, is a junior at Langley High School. She is interested in current events, public health, and technology. She is also an avid debater and enjoys having cultivated discussions.

You have seen the statistics. More than twenty-thousand dead worldwide as of today. You have seen China, you have seen Italy. I weep for them.

People are dying in their homes and no one is coming to help them. Doctors and nurses are exhausted from treating the sick. The impact is devastating.

Now it’s in America. The US now has the most number of cases in the world. Hospitals are running out of much-needed masks, ventilators, and hospital beds. Healthcare professionals are now re-using protective gear. Is it too late, or can we still stop Covid-19 from spreading?

I was looking through the statistics to try to find an answer. One thing caught my eye. It’s Japan. Japan used to have the 3rd most number of Covid-19 cases, but it has since dropped to number 31. How? After all, Japan was one of the first countries to get the virus. It has an aging population and high population density. It hasn’t put in any strict regulations until recently. Shouldn’t Japan be the epicenter of this virus? Yet, only 1866 people got the virus, and only 54 have died.

Perhaps the Japanese government hasn’t carried out enough tests. But if Japan was just underreporting, then its hospitals would have been overrun with sick patients weeks ago, regardless of the number of cases confirmed. This means that the Japanese people are doing something against the coronavirus that is working. So what is it?

I decided to call my uncle in Japan, and I asked him, what is Japan doing that other countries are not? He didn’t know. He told me that the coronavirus hadn’t changed much in Japan. But people also continue to go to work on a daily basis and they still commute on crowded trains. Shouldn’t the virus spread faster with crowded public transportation? I was confused.

After scrupulously comparing my life to my uncle’s, I found a couple of important differences between the strategy of the US and Japanese to combat the virus. Here are the two key takeaways:

  • Social Distancing

We hear this phrase all the time. Maintain a 6-foot distance away from everyone.

That’s because it’s important.

The social distancing already ingrained in Japanese culture has allowed the Japanese to naturally mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. They do not hug, shake hands, or kiss in greeting. Instead, they bow to each other. They also refrain from touching each other and even family members socially. It’s working.

It’s hard to stay cooped up in your own home. But it’s just something you have to do temporarily. Stay at home. Avoid contact with others. It’s not easy, but everyone needs to do it together. Don’t be selfish. Don’t endanger the lives of other people.

Unfortunately, there’s one problem with social distancing. It’s not fool-proof. For social distancing to work, you also need to practice good hygiene.

  • Good Hygiene

The Japanese practice a “combination of wearing masks when sick, regular doctor’s visits, and a willingness to follow the advice of health officials, among others,” says Dr. Matthieu Felt, a professor of Japanese culture at the University of Florida. Good hygiene has been very effective for Japan in combating the coronavirus. We should learn from them.

If you are sick, or frequently come in contact with someone who is sick, wear a mask. It is very disrespectful in Japanese culture to disregard good hygiene habits because doing so could endanger other people.

“Wash your hands with soap and water.” We hear this from doctors all the time, but we don’t take it seriously. At least, not as serious as people in Japan do. My uncle washes his hands before he goes to bed, after he wakes up, before and after he eats, after he goes to the store or to the bank, after using the restroom, after he touches money, or a doorknob…you get the point. Now he does it even more. It’s just the cultural norm in Japan.

You absolutely can not ignore this. Hand washing is the last barrier between you and the virus. Even if you self-quarantine, you will still get in contact with the outside world; whether it be through shopping at the store or online. Because of the coronavirus, we must treat every surface as unsanitary.

These actions will dramatically decrease the spread of the coronavirus and reduce the pressure on our healthcare system. We are now at a critical moment, and everyone needs to do their part. So please. I don’t care if you’re young or old, sick or not, but I ask you to do yourself, your family, your friends, and your country a favor. Practice social distancing. Wash your hands with soap regularly. Remember, that the killer is in your hands, and it is in your hands to stop it.