Living with the virus
Hasegawa’s comments on obedience refer to a Japanese cultural norm known as jishuku, which translates to self-restraint. The belief is that ostentatious behavior is in poor taste during a time of national crisis, and it’s a mantra that was repeatedly used after the 2011 earthquake and Fukushima nuclear disaster.
While Japanese culture may have a reputation as rule-abiding to the point of inflexible, it’s important not to paint the entire society with such a broad brush, according to Kyle Cleveland, the director of the Institute of Contemporary Asian Studies at Temple University in Tokyo.
“We should be cautious about overgeneralizing from this, and kind of defining culture in an orientalist kind of way in which we’re thinking that there’s something really qualitatively different about Japan compared to other Asian countries,” he said.
“If you look at countries like Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, Thailand they also have relatively low case rates, as does Japan. The common characteristic that these various societies have is that they follow the rules. The rules govern societies.”
Cleveland doesn’t believe that this apparent defiance and anger with the government proves that jishuku is suddenly losing its place in Japanese culture. Rather, he says it may just be that people are evolving to live with the virus and are more willing to accept the risks it poses.
“It’s not like jishuku existed a month ago, now it doesn’t,” he said. “(People) are still practicing social distancing and they’re wearing masks and things like this, but they’re realizing that they have to have a balance between financial obligations and also just quality of life and so as a result they’re starting to get out into the society.”

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Joshua Berlinger