Thursday, September 23, 2021

Life in Japan in the Time of Corona (Or why rona will be big in Japan for a while yet)

I just went to a new little soba (buckwheat noodle) shop in my neighborhood here outside of Kyoto and had a tasty and cheap bowl of nishin (Pacific herring) noodles with a green apple sour cocktail to wash it down. Only after ordering did I notice that the master (chef & owner) had his mask hanging off his chin as he cooked, bustled about the open kitchen, and breathed all over my food.

I would not have gone in had I noticed him first.

Which got to me thinking, why would a small business owner struggling under safety restrictions engage in such self-destructive behaviour? To step back further, why is a supposedly law-abiding society like Japan having such a hard time shaking off Corona?

(Warning - This article contains a lot of anecdotal evidence, but that doesn't mean it is totally invalid, just needing clarification & confirmation.)

1 It's a class (and hierarchy) thing

Who do I mostly see drooping masks over their chin here? A LOT of construction and service workers. In other words, blue collar workers at the low end of the socio-economic spectrum. People who have little to lose. I remember Bourdieu commenting on how lower class people engage in self-destructive behaviour more on average because they have little to lose. Japanese laborers seem to be embodying this trend.

On the other hand, I also see bosses and managers mask drooping as they command about bowing and masked underlings. It could be the rules don't apply to them when in a position of power at the top of the hierarchy.

Not that a virus cares about these things...

2 It's a social thing

Japanese are inherently social, but their sociablity is often outsourced to a paying contact - the girl at the snack bar, the master at the noodle shop. As I ate my soba, a local woman at the counter talked up a storm with the waitress. Many Japanese talk less with their family than coworkers or shop staff, so shutting down eating and drinking establishments is anathema to their social identity.

So stay at home orders feel like social suicide to many Japanese. No wonder they went on with the Olympics, and hordes of maskless young people throng in McDs and parks, and push up the daily Corona stats...

3 It's a macho manchild thing

Predominantly, the maskless faces I see in the streets are male. Ian Buruma's A Japanese Mirror adroitly dissects the Japanese male psyche, which is split between the swaggering machismo of the samurai (a la Yukio Mishima) and the co-dependence of a spoiled son from a hahmono, or suffering mother tragedy story, which were big in the 1950's. That was when Japan needed armies of manchildren to do what they were told and staff its companies and rebuild the nation.

Now, no one is telling them what to do, so their masks hang low...

4 It's a technocratic thing

Now that Japan is estimated to be 50% vaccinated, I am seeing older people loosening their masks. I live on the Tokaido, the old road between Kyoto and Yedo, and many of the largely senior citizen hikers that trudge past my house reliving the old glory days of the samurai have dropped masks altogether as they chat amiably as they walk.

This implies that we may see a rise in vaccinated people being infected. Time to watch those numbers...

I went out for beers under the ancient Sanjo Bridge in Kyoto the other day, and talking with a fellow professor who teaches at Kyoto University, we concluded Japan is only half way through the Corona epidemic. In short, we expected the epidemic to last 2 more years, even though we were sure we'd be sent back to classrooms long before that.

By the way, the soba was worth it. I'm fully vaccinated, I just hope I didn't bring home a side order of master's rona breath for my unvaccinated child.

No comments:

Post a Comment