Tensions have been running high across the globe as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. We feel that this is a good opportunity for us to come together and share our collective thoughts and concerns about the global crisis and how we’re personally being affected by it.
I remember when I was getting ready to move to Japan in 2014 and memories of the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake were still fresh in people’s minds. Some of my family members expressed concern about moving to Japan even years after the disaster. How Japan reacts and deals with this crisis will similarly affect how “safe” Japan is viewed in the future.
It’s almost impossible to plan and prepare for worldwide emergencies as disruptive as the current pandemic. With entire major metropolitan areas like Tokyo, London, and New York practically coming to a standstill for weeks, it’s easy to understand how residents can be frightened, anxious, or frustrated.
We asked tenants currently renting apartments using the GaijinPot Housing Service to share their perspectives on the current situation from the perspective of living in Japan as a foreigner. As of April 9, 2020, 76 people have responded to our survey, giving us a glimpse at how foreign residents in Japan are dealing with the current state of the world. This survey was conducted over the course of the days leading up to the state of emergency declaration on April 7, 2020.
Q. How anxious do you feel about the spread of the coronavirus in Japan?
As a follow-up to this question, we asked respondents to explain why they are or aren’t feeling anxious. Here are some of the responses.
“Many people here underestimated the disease, and even in my area I have seen people ignoring the warning to avoiding crowds (especially for hanami).”
“The cases are rising in Japan but there is nothing implemented to slow the spread of COVID.”
“Again a serious disregard by the general public for the health and safety for others. I’m serious about social distancing and staying home as much as possible.”
Q. With the increasing number of coronavirus cases being reported, how safe do you feel in Japan right now?
“There doesn’t seem to be a sense of panic right now, however I’m not convinced that we won’t avoid the same problems other countries are having as the virus continues to spread. I’ve also experienced some xenophobia, which was never an issue prior to COVID-19.”
“Slow transmission compared to elsewhere. Good medical care.”
“I feel like many politicians, companies and people aren’t taking it seriously.”
Q. How easy is it for you to find information in English about the coronavirus situation in Japan and the government response, etc.?
As many news outlets in Japan also operate English versions of their publications, residents seem to be able to find English news regarding the coronavirus situation in Japan. A majority of respondents wrote in that websites like NHK are their main source for news at the moment. A handful of residents also mentioned that they are able to stay connected with their community through Facebook or other social media, and in a sense are able to gauge the public response through the safety of their homes.
A few of our respondents mentioned thoughts along the lines of, “I feel way less informed than I would be if I were fluent in Japanese and concerned about the situation.” And this is an interesting sliver of what it can feel like to be living in a foreign country during times like this if you don’t speak the language. Of course, Tokyo is a modern city with an increasingly international population, but at the end of the day when it comes to matters of the government and such, Japanese will be used. Even though a lot of the information from the government is being translated and shared through English news outlets, some residents might feel more informed if they were able to understand the information presented in Japanese.
Q. Is there anything else you’d like to get off your chest?
Over 65% of respondents shared their thoughts in this optional, free-form question. Below are some selected answers. As our survey was conducted prior to the declaration of the state-of-emergency on April 7th, some of the responses refer to a “possible” declaration of a state-of-emergency.
Selected, representative answers:
“Its a very difficult situation, I don’t feel safe in Japan at all.”
“I appreciate everyones help and consideration during these times.”
“With this situation, I do have a lot of financial stress.”
“I’ve had to take time off work to protect myself as my workplace has remained open. My commute is long, and we are expected to teach face-to-face with many students every day (who aren’t even required to wear a mask) and groups of children, even if they’re sick. I have already been to the emergency room once this year for my asthma. Getting this virus would be life-threatening to me, yet my company will stay open until the government forces them to close and I am expected to pay ¥500 per lesson to have someone cover for me. Plus, I don’t get paid if I don’t work. I don’t know how I am meant to afford to stay home if the company doesn’t let us work from home soon. Even if I somehow managed to move back to the US immediately, I don’t have a job there, and my medical expenses would be much higher. I’ve just read the news about the prime minister declaring a state of emergency on Wednesday and I’m glad for it, but that still means I won’t be making money for the time being. I have a savings, and my family has sent me a little money, but things are about to get tough.”
“My employer will not allow me to work from home and I’m worried, however my longest commute is only 30 mins.”
“I think the most troublesome thing is that there aren’t enough people tested. If people don’t know whether they have the virus or not, they will not change their behaviour. Also it seems like people haven’t been to aware of the virus. I still saw sick people outside sneezing into their hands.”
“PLEASE INFORM PEOPLE TO TAKE THIS SERIOUSLY”
“Japan is a wonderful country but this crisis has highlighted the worst aspects of the government. I am unlikely to return to the US during the length of the crisis as the situation would be much worse for me in the States, but I am incredibly disappointed with the Japanese government.”
“Good luck! Stay home and wash your hands often! It’ll be ok, eventually.”
Lead image: iStock