As reported by JapanToday, until two days ago, Japanese authorities had not imposed strict social distancing measures in Tokyo, home to nearly 14 million people. Only on Wednesday did Tokyo Gov Yuriko Koike request that citizens stay indoors this weekend, citing “an important phase in preventing an explosive rise.”
Following Governor Koike’s request, the governors of Kanagawa, Chiba, Saitama, and Ibaraki all called for residents of these prefectures to refrain from taking nonessential trips into Tokyo in order to help with the mitigation efforts. Kanagawa, Chiba, and Saitama prefectures surround the capital.
Unlike many countries in Europe and about half of the United States, Japan has not yet ordered the closure of nonessential businesses, such as restaurants, cafes, or hair salons. Nonessential activities and internal travel have also not been shut down.
Thus far, Japan has not seen the mass spread of the coronavirus that has hit Europe and North America. As of Thursday, Japan had 2,018 cases, including 712 from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, and 55 deaths. In contrast, Italy, for example, had more than 74,380 cases and over 7,500 deaths.
Yesterday, Real Estate Japan conducted informal email interviews with a small group of Tokyo residents to get their thoughts on Governor Koike’s request for people to stay indoors. We wanted to get their thoughts on the spread of the coronavirus in Japan and what it’s like living in Tokyo now. Two of the respondents are Japanese citizens, two are resident foreigners, and one is a dual Japanese-American citizen.
Below we share the questions and responses. Some answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Q1. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being “Not concerned at all” and 5 being “Extremely concerned” how concerned are you about an explosive rise in the spread of the coronavirus in the next few weeks? Why or why not?
- “5” because 41 new confirmed cases in a single day indicates that the virus has been spreading and currently Japanese people go out and gather with others a lot in the cities.
- “5” because it physically restricts my everyday activities, as well as affecting decisions that matter to my plans (such as work, travel, shopping, events…)
- Honestly, a “5”… Looking at other countries, the next few weeks are when we should really be worried. Suddenly in Japan the numbers are rising at a faster rate than ever before, and last weekend tons of people were going outside. The next few weeks are crucial in determining whether or not Tokyo will be forced into lockdown.
- “3” — I feel like I’m not “not concerned” but I’m also not “extremely concerned.” I feel like if I were extremely concerned I would have not even come into work once a week (as I have been for meetings). I have upped my concern to avoiding public transportation practically at all costs, and have only used my bicycle for transportation for the past 10 days or so. It’s hard to look at all the news from affected countries and think “Wait, why isn’t that happening here?” Some Japanese nationals that I’ve talked to think that Japan’s “unparalleled cleanliness” is what is preventing such a huge spike in SARS-CoV-2 cases, and I truly hope that is the case. But it really seems like the way to prevent infections is through limiting social interaction, and the sheer number of people going out for hanami last weekend was astounding.
- “3” — Frankly, I have mixed feelings. It’s like yeah, I want to be safe from the virus, but at the same time, it’s becoming overwhelming and I’m getting tired of dealing with this. The government hasn’t given us any clear guidelines/directions and always makes irrational decisions, which kind of makes me confused.
Q2: Do you plan to stay at home this weekend? Why or why not?
Oh yeah. The way I see it: spending some time indoors playing video games, watching YouTube, and reading books is much more appealing than potentially infecting myself or others. If by staying indoors I can reduce the number of people who will be infected (particularly those who are known vulnerable groups like the elderly and those with pre-existing health conditions) then sign me up. It’s also supposed to rain this weekend so no real point in being outside anyways.
Yes, because the data has been showing that the virus has been spreading in Tokyo.
I will definitely stay at home, unless there’s anything urgent. I’d like to see if all of us in Tokyo can make this huge attempt to make a big difference and slow the spread of the coronavirus.
- This is a bit tricky. I actually live in Chiba just outside of Tokyo, and recently on my off days I have been choosing not to take the train at all or leave anywhere outside my immediate vicinity. My girlfriend usually comes over on the weekends, and she lives a few stations down from me. Even though she lives pretty close, since neither of us have cars I’m kind of conflicted on what to do this weekend…
- I usually don’t go out on the weekends, so yes, I’m staying in. I mean I go out to buy food, but other than that, it’s just a normal weekend for me.
Q3: Do you have friends or relatives in any countries that are currently dealing with a large number of coronavirus cases? What are your concerns about them and vice versa?
- Yes, Indonesia and America. Especially Indonesia, where my wife is. Given the fact that medical treatment is not as advanced as Japan, I do feel concerned, but at the same time, I need to make sure I stay away from the coronavirus here in Tokyo.
- Yes. I am concerned about whether they can get proper medical treatment on time because the healthcare system there has been damaged. Also, some of my Asian-looking friends and relatives (overseas) are in danger of being discriminated against. They’re also facing negative economic impacts. (My friends/relatives) are worried that the Japanese government has not been honest with the public about the situation with the virus, which is something I agree with. But I also believe that the healthcare system would be badly damaged if too many people test positive for the virus and people who need the most urgent care won’t be able to get it. So I am okay with how the Japanese government is measuring the spread of the virus in Japan. But it means that each one of us needs to make sure that we don’t get infected by acting responsibly.
- I have a cousin who lives in Hong Kong, but she moved to New Zealand because she was concerned about the coronavirus outbreak. Her concern was the movement of people from China to Hong Kong at that time. It’s been almost a month since she moved. Now we’re starting to see the spread of the virus in New Zealand and the media says that China has far fewer cases. It’s giving me the impression that there’s no really escape!
- All of my family in America lives in King County, one of the epicenters of the outbreak in Washington state. For the most part they seem to be strictly following guidelines and overall seem to be doing well. I’m certainly still worried, but as long as they keep up with guidelines and exercise precautions as much as possible I think they will be okay.
- I have friends in the US and the UK who are currently in lockdown quarantine situations. It’s a tense time, but with everybody stuck indoors it seems like there’s more time to communicate with each other so in a sense, we’re all in this together but isolated. All of those who I consider my friends are on the same page about understanding the importance of social distancing and even quarantines at this time.
Q4: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
- A lot of people here in Japan criticize others who are going on overseas trips. However, some people have legit reasons they need to go. The government needs stricter rules or else people will still travel. I think what’s imperative is not just trying to contain the virus, which is difficult because of how easily it spreads and the density of big cities like Tokyo; but to develop and mass produce a vaccine as soon as possible.
- I hope I’m wrong and that Japan’s social customs (bowing instead of handshakes/kissing, wearing masks) have prevented a major spike in SARS-CoV-2 cases or at least flattened the curve dramatically. But, every other major outbreak is a roadmap to follow that we can clearly see the growth as it progress after the initial onset of cases. The growth rate of the spread doesn’t seem “too bad” until it’s out of control. The best way to prevent this is to lockdown and test and quarantine as shown by Taiwan, South Korea, and Singapore – where most of the population probably remembers the SARS virus outbreak of 2003 and have learned from it.
- We need to do everything not to get infected so that we can get through this unprecedented situation together.
- After the announcement on Wednesday by Tokyo Metropolitan Government, I dropped by the supermarket on my way home and found that most of the food (cup noodles, pasta, bread, eggs, etc.) had run out last night.
The answers above represent the thoughts of just a small sample of Tokyo residents. However, we hope that it gives our readers an idea of what it’s like now in the capital and how some residents feel as we’re waiting to see how the next few days and weeks unfold. Real Estate Japan would like to sincerely thank all of the survey respondents for their candid and insightful answers!
To all of our readers, we at Real Estate Japan hope that you and your loved ones stay safe and informed throughout this worldwide ordeal.
You may also be interested in: How concerned about COVID-19 are Tokyo residents? 7 Questions on what life is like in Tokyo now (Email interview with a group of Tokyo residents, from March 20, 2020)
Lead photo: iStock