The Strengths and Weaknesses of the Japanese, Exposed by the Diamond Princess Saga

The outbreak of the novel coronavirus attracted much attention across the globe. Many foreign media agencies covered not only the situation of Wuhan in China but also a cruise ship, the Diamond Princess, docked in Japan at that time. It is hardly surprising because many passengers who came from many countries around the world were on that vessel. I feel the attitude of the Japanese government to the tough situation of the Diamond Princess exposed the typical strengths and weaknesses that many Japanese people have. Succinctly, they are good at peacetime operations, but not good in an emergency situation like this one.

We hardly know what happened on the Diamond Princess because the Japanese authorities were not willing to disclose that information. But, nobody can deny their bungles because many passengers finally ended up infected with the novel coronavirus on the ship. What I want to point out is that the Japanese government hardly disclosed any information. There is a word “haji (恥)” in the Japanese language. This term roughly translates to the word “shame” in the English language, but in my opinion, haji has a deeper meaning than you’d probably guess. Political leaders and elite bureaucrats might intentionally have chosen a lack of transparency rather than risking haji. I can imagine how they felt because I’m Japanese as well. However, as a matter of course, I have to say this kind of mindset is hazardous and vulnerable.

Even though infection specialist Kentaro Iwata, a professor at Kobe University Hospital, insisted through a YouTube video that the situation on the ship had been chaotic, Suga Yoshihide, Chief Cabinet Secretary, denied that in a press conference. Unfortunately, almost nobody believes what government leaders said. If they reflect on nothing, they will improve nothing. They won’t receive any advice from anyone because they’re not admitting their failures at all. The Japanese government should have disclosed everything and received information and support from all corners of the world. The specialists should have taken initiatives, and politicians and bureaucrats should have supported the specialists. However, the Japanese government went the opposite way. That was the most significant cause of the fiasco with the Diamond Princess.

Of course, we have to say the lack of transparency is terrible. However, I don’t think there is no room for sympathy here. Not only Japan, but also other countries had never had any experience of quarantine in humankind’s history whereby they’d isolated a luxury cruise ship, which had over 3,700 passengers. In addition to that, that ship is registered to the UK, and owned by a US company. Many internet users say that Japan didn’t necessarily have to help a vessel from the standpoint of international law.

Everybody in Japan can easily go to see a doctor and get the right medicine thanks to a universal health insurance system, unlike in the US. Almost all kids don’t have to pay the cost, thanks to local governments. Plus, I can say that the sanitary conditions in Japan are maintained at a higher level than in foreign countries. In fact, many Japanese wear face masks even if they are not sick because they are very conscious of the importance of hygiene. These are some of the advantages in Japan. As I mentioned above, Japan operates well in times of peace, but not so well in times of trouble.

The mindset of “Haji” that many Japanese have is likely to disrupt constructive and rational solutions to problems. As many people around the world felt concerned about the situation on the Diamond Princess, many Japanese were also worried about their own authorities. The case of the Diamond Princess showed the strengths and weaknesses of Japan to international society. Even if just one doubter were to stand in the limelight, although that professor sustained a massive backlash from the government and the academic community on this occasion, the typical mindset of the Japanese people might start to change bit by bit.

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