Residents of Japan are hunkering down, preparing to wait out the COVID-19 coronavirus that’s broken out in several prefectures here. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has recommended that all elementary, junior high and high schools should close for several weeks as the situation is assessed. Even Tokyo Disneyland is closing until March 15, at least, to keep the virus from spreading among visitors. According to the Japan Coronavirus Tracker, there are currently 212 active cases in the country, mostly involving the cruise ship that was quarantined for several weeks in Yokohama Harbor, or people who had been visiting China during the breakout.
The situation took another dramatic turn today when social media lit up with images of empty shelves in stores that were once well-stocked with toilet paper, as concerns about the continued availability of this important product in case it takes longer than expected for the virus to be contained. Toilet paper in Japan is getting hard to find.
The idea is that, if the industrial inputs toilet paper is made from (as well as the health masks that Japanese people love to wear even in normal times) come from China, the virus outbreak there could disrupt production and make these products impossible obtain in Japan. This rumor caused an industry group that manufactures toilet paper in Japan to make an announcement through the media that this belief was 100% untrue, as all of the materials for making masks and toilet paper come from inside Japan, so there’s no need to fear prolonged shortages.
It’s a little surprising to see at least some Japanese people hoarding products, because they were so famously well-behaved in the terrible aftermath of the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunamis that temporarily brought Japan to its knees. Back then, power was lost for millions in Touhoku, while the Tokyo area (including J-List) was subject to emergency rolling blackouts in which the power was shut off every 4 hours. Driving through the city with all the traffic lights off and shopping in a store which had no power was definitely a scary experience. And yet there was no looting or hoarding or other unsavory behavior by Japanese during that crisis.
This is a stressful time for Japan, as fears of the unknown cause people to take extra precautions and avoid going out too much. But my wife and I have taken the opposite tack: seeing our favorite restaurants with very few customers due to the scare, we’ve been eating out every night in an effort to support these businesses.
I asked the excellent J-List Twitter followers if they had any questions about how Japan is coping with the virus scare, and here are some of the questions I got.
How are food supplies holding up?
No problems at all. Remember, there are only 212 cases in the country, and authorities are giving good care to all affected individuals. Most are related to the Diamond Princess cruise ship in which infections ran rampant in part because of the long quarantine, plus isolated instances of individuals traveling to Japan from China. When I went to Costco it was bustling with customers and everything was in stock (except face masks).
How do people afford time to get tested? Aren’t work schedules notoriously brutal in Japan?
As I’ve written before, it’s easy to get the wrong idea about a country like Japan from the images we see online, as the “lens of the Internet” makes things that seem strange appear larger or more common than they really are. Yes, a lot of people work at burakku kigyou (black company) jobs that are overly demanding, but many more work normal hours and have proper vacation and benefits, like the staff of J-List.
What measures are people taking to protect themselves?
Naturally 80% of people you see in public are wearing those famous Japanese face masks, which are commonly seen even in normal times. Incredibly, Japan’s culture of wearing face masks are a holdover from the 1918 Spanish Flu outbreak that caught hold went away. I’ve got an article on Japan’s face mask culture if you want to read it.
The other thing the Japanese do is carry around small spray bottles filled with an ethanol-based hand cleaner. My wife went even further, buying a bottle of a sanitizer called cresol, an antiseptic-smelling that she mixes with water, so I always have medical-grade antiseptic to spray on my hands when out in public.
Will the virus situation allow Japan’s hikikomori to rise up and take over finally?
Interesting idea for an anime or a film! A dark story about antisocial NEETs being forced to rebuild society after all the ria-juu (happy well-adjusted normies with boyfriends/girlfriends) have died off. Something like Dr. Stone, but set up to make amusing commentary on otaku culture.
I know there’s a lot of scary stuff going on with the Coronavirus news. Everyone stay safe and hopefully we’ll get through it okay. pic.twitter.com/LzraFPB129
— Peter Payne (@JListPeter) January 29, 2020
So everyone take whatever precautions you think is best, but try not to overreact or become overly concerned. It’s scary, but we’ll get through it okay!
Got any more questions about toilet paper in Japan, or other issues about the coronavirus outbreak? Hit us up on Twitter!