Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Japan on Convid-19, an update

Well, it seems that Abe has extended the national emergency in Japan until the end of May. Public schools have been closed since the beginning of March, and the original emergency order was set to take effect just before the start of Golden Week on April 27. Places where people gather, like restaurants and event halls are supposed to be closed, or vastly scaled down, but since this is still the middle of Golden Week, a lot of places are closed for the vacation holidays anyway. But, it's having a huge impact on businesses and special activities that normally happen around this time. The Kagoshima Marathon had been canceled, as I think was the Kirishima Ryouma Honeymoon Walk at the end of March. The Ramen Oh ramen shop competition at the beginning of the shutdown closed right at the last moment before the start time. Nothing was said leading up to Dai Hanya at the end of April, but it apparently never happened, either. The Napoli Street event celebrating the sister city ties with Naples was scheduled for May, and I'm not hearing anything about that, so I guess that's out. I haven't seen any advertising for the Kagoshima Music Fest for May, and I'm betting that's canceled already.

Amu Plaza is a ghost town. The only thing open is the food court in the basement, which consists of the Shiroyama supermarket, and McDonald's and Baskin-Robbins 31, but for take-out only. Maruya Gardens department store is the same way. Junkudo Bookstore on the 6th floor of Maruya is closed, but the sister shop, Maruzen Books a couple blocks away is still open but with shortened hours. The Aeon department store across the streetcar street from Amu Plaza is also fully open but with shortened hours, too. The main departments close at maybe 5 PM, while the basement supermarket and first floor cleaning and toiletry supplies are open until 9 PM or something. There were reports all day yesterday that the Yamakataya department store and Maruya Gardens would indeed be open today, but with shortened hours.

There's a Mister Doughnut on the first floor corner of Aeon. I went in a couple of days ago to meet someone who'd been planning on grabbing lunch before going to the 100 yen shop on the Aeon fifth floor. I walked into Mister Doughnut and it was deserted, too. Just one sad, lonely register clerk behind the counter and no one else. A sign nearby said "Take-out only." It was a little after noon, and no walk-in customers.

Most of the clothing shops in Tenmonkan are closed for Golden Week, anyway. Many of the smaller restaurants have closed, and any that are still open have switched to take-out only. A few have set up tables on the sidewalks in front for pick-up bento meals. After 9 PM, the streets are mostly deserted. Even the numbers of taxis patrolling around have dropped by over half. I go out for a little exercise when I take the trash out at night, sometimes as late as 1 AM. Two nights ago, at 2 AM I heard small children laughing and playing in the alleys behind some of the apartment buildings. Last night, there were 5 sports cars with teenagers in a Family Mart parking lot at 1:30 AM, no masks, joking and challenging each other to street races (which they never actually got around to doing).

The city has pretty much recovered from the toilet paper and mask shortages, though. Aeon and Donkey are fully stocked with toilet, tissue and kitchen paper, and any store that's still open, including souvenir shops, have tables piled with white paper disposable masks.

Japan has generally been pretty anti-virus and bacteria. Years ago, people were putting UV lamps in their homes to kill bacteria on paper money. So, over 80% of Kagoshima wears masks when they go outside. The numbers go up when there are announcements of infections showing up closer to the city. I'm also seeing more pre-printed signs saying "Corona ni makeruna" ("We will not be defeated by Corona"). Generally, these are at food shops that are still open. I don't know if this is to say "We'll stay strong" or "We won't close in the face of the shutdown."

One thing that is strange is that last Fall there'd been a lot of preparation against the flu, with people going out to get shots. Every year in the past, there were reports of lots of people coming down with colds, the flu and allergy attacks, and there's been almost none of that this time. Kagoshima only has a couple Covid-19 cases, and the hospitals and clinics are partly closed for Golden Week. True, the radio news reporters talk about nothing but Covid, but I still expected the flu to be a problem this year, too, and it's not.

There have been reports coming out of the U.S. of people banding together and helping each other with making and supplying masks, distributing food not being used by restaurants, etc. (of course, there's the government confiscating masks and ventilators being shipped to State hospitals and military veterans, and the supremacists and anti-vaxxers using armed force against State Governors to lift the shutdowns before it's safe). While, in Japan, the stories are mainly only about hospital workers and their children being bullied by anyone that helps them. Almost nothing about communities pulling together to help each other. Another complaint is of parents taking their kids to the parks to play together. The parents have masks on, but the kids don't. Be interesting to see the parents' reactions when they start coming down sick ("But I was wearing a mask outside all the time!")

One of the workers I know at a nearby Konbini was telling me that they're seeing fewer sales because more customers are buying stuff off of Amazon. So, he's in the process of buying a small van and applying to Amazon to work as a contract deliveryman.

There are two family restaurants just outside of Tenmonkan - Royal Host and Gusto. Royal Host has cut its hours and has gone fully take-out only. Gusto still has normal hours and is also offering take-out, but they're getting a LOT of sit-in customers. They've instituted a mandatory "clean your hands with alcohol" policy when you enter, and if you get the drink or soup bar, they give you thin, cheap plastic gloves to put on before pushing the buttons on the drink machines.

Oh yeah, and there's Abenomask. Several weeks ago, Abe announced that the government was sending two reusable masks per household to address the mask shortage problem. Aside from this being inadequate for households with more than 2 people, and the entire program costing millions of dollars, the program was shutdown almost immediately after starting because of reports that the masks were moldy, badly made or falling apart. No idea when it will be restarted. There's also the stimulus package that reportedly gives a small amount of money back to 2019 taxpayers. It's unclear whether that includes foreigners and non-residents working part-time and not on company-sponsored working visas. On top of this, Abe just tried re-introducing legislation for rewriting the constitution to allow the SDF to use weapons in combat (he may also have tried slipping in a mandatory draft requirement for men over 18), but that was roundly shot down as being "poor timing."

That's about it for now.

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