Things are developing much as I predicted in last month’s column. While the vaccination of seniors progressed, the number of infections surged, and Tokyo declared another state of emergency. In an attempt to control the number of new cases, which it takes to be the most important indicator of the pandemic, the Japanese government has tried to prevent infections at restaurants that serve alcohol, which has just extended the economic malaise. And now the government has turned the Olympics into an event with all pain and no gain! I think public perceptions like these are why the flow of people hasn’t halted.
If your son isn’t studying, simply yelling at him to “Go and study!” isn’t helpful. If he has no inclination to study, he will just sit at his desk and pretend. This achieves nothing. I see parallels to the situation with the Japanese government and restaurants: attempts to force restaurants to curb alcohol sales are useless. More than just imbibing alcohol, Japanese people think of drinking establishments as places to communicate. Just telling people (who don’t think banning alcohol sales will improve the situation anyway) not to visit such establishments won’t have the intended effect.
Here’s an easy example that our country’s experts and leaders should be able to imagine if they try: a four-person household, made up of a husband, wife, and two children. In the morning, the two parents each go off to their jobs, and the children go to their respective schools. These four people spend all day working and studying within their respective communities. When evening comes, the four members return home to spend time together as a family. No bans on drinking alcohol at home are in place, so the parents might have a drink as they communicate with each other and their children. Unless the experts and national leaders are willing to do away with pleasant opportunities for communication such as this, they won’t be able to achieve their aims. Families are sure to enjoy the spectacle of the Olympics at home, but nobody’s checking to make sure that family members are wearing their masks as they sit together in front of the TV. Given this scenario, the Olympics is likely to be a source of new infections within the home.
Making restaurants the bad guys does nothing to reduce new infections. All it achieves is to shift profits away from drinking establishments and toward convenience stores and supermarkets. Our country’s leaders have defined “locations that serve alcohol along with food” as places where infection spreads. That’s all wrong. The correct definition should be “places where maskless communication occurs.” The starting definition is wrong, so it’s no surprise that the resulting actions are mistaken, too. Unless the government is willing to accept this more accurate definition, it will be unable to introduce appropriate measures.
Since the start of July, 14 people in Tokyo have died of COVID-19 in half a month (a 15-day period). This result might be because of the focus on vaccinating seniors first. Some 120,000 people die each year, or around 5,000 per month. In other words, COVID-19 is responsible for just 0.28% of deaths. If we take number of deaths as the key performance indicator, declaring a state of emergency is unreasonable. I’ve been saying this over and over again in my columns, but rather than reducing the number of infections, the government needs to take an objective look at the data and reduce the useless sense of horror that people are feeling.
To change the subject slightly, as humans we tend to fear death and do what we can to avoid it. A long life is considered a virtue; few people would dispute that. Japanese rank among the longest-lived people in the world, and this fact is glorified in the news every year. But surely the length of life isn’t all that’s important. We need to think about the quality of life as well. Alongside the question of “How long can I maintain a state of living?” as a society we need to ask ourselves “How can I make that time fulfilling?” I think the time has come for the nation’s leaders to start talking about the shift in emphasis from quantity to quality, and for the Japanese people to begin thinking along these lines. Instead, it seems we are just reflecting back on past glories.
The same sort of mistaken emphasis exists with regard to the economy. At its peak, Japan’s GDP ranked second in the world. However, since the start of the 21st century, economic growth has been near zero. Meanwhile, countries in Europe and the Americas, China, and other parts of Asia have outpaced Japan’s growth levels and become steadily richer. With the Japanese population aging and shrinking every year, we can no longer pursue quantity. Since the start of the 21st century, technological innovations have always come from overseas. Japan, meanwhile, seems to be scraping by on the assets it built up in the 20th century. We need to redefine wealth based on the tangible and intangible assets we own. I think many would agree that government policy needs to do away with its emphasis on quantity and focus on quality.
Chairman and CEO
Kamakura Shinsho, Ltd.