Japan Loses Another War (revised)

Japan losing the war — again.

Japan, alone in Asia, is losing the war against COVID 19. Oh, I know they say they are winning it. Just as they said they were winning the war against the Americans in 1941. They have been lucky so far, thanks to a combination of cultural factors that have nothing much to do with public policy, as well as the low lethality of the virus most common in Japan.

Deaths from COVID 19 are low, although there is doubt about the validity of the statistics.

Vietnam, with far fewer resources, responded to the COVID 19 crisis proactively before the virus could establish itself : the country has not had any deaths so far — a remarkable achievement, without mass testing, but using aggressive quarantine measures, isolating not only those infected but everyone they had been in contact with.

Can’t do that in a democracy? Sure you can. Almost every democracy has laws in place to make such measures possible in national emergencies.

Quarantines work and they are carried out where necessary: it has nothing to do with the political system, only with whether a society prioritizes the common good.

In Korea, the virus hit hard. But the government responded with massive testing, quarantines, digital monitoring of temperatures and other measures. It was not necessary to completely shut down the economy and the epidemic was broken quickly. The Koreans were innovative, crossed all the “t’s” and dotted all the ‘i’s”. They waited for the Second Wave. It came. Again, they responded proactively.

Japan, however, is different.

The economy was only partially shutdown and lockdown measures were voluntary, not that the government didn't’ have the power to enforce lock down measures but because it wanted to keep Japan Inc running as usual.

There is very little testing in Japan, perhaps intentionally. If the infection rate in Tokyo is reported as 15; that would be 200 or 300 in South Korea where people pay attention to the fact that most of the iceberg is under water.

The Japanese, therefore, have a localized version of the Swedish model, although the Swedes now test more. No mandatory quarantines. There are case of individuals who have tested positive taking buses and trains and attending parties, with no legal response, even though some forms of public endangerment laws must be on the books. Ordinary people, may don’t know whether they are positive due to lack of testing still go out drinking in groups. The streets are packed on holidays. This could not happen in Vietnam or China, not that the Vietnamese or Chinese would let the situation devolve this far.

Why is Japan different from other Asian countries?

Part of is that the Japanese think they are different. We’re not “Asian” — we’re Japanese. We’re different. As though the virus agreed with Nihonjin Ron.

The Japanese have always been notoriously slow to pick up on developments in other countries. They are usually five years behind. In addition, the Ministry of Health is notoriously conservative, which is why it takes so long to get drugs approved in Japan, even after their worth has been shown in test after test abroad. Yeah, so they work on other people. But we’re Japanese! Not a different culture or different race — a different species. Don’t blame Abe — he is just doing what any Japanese PM would do, looking for soft sand to put his head in.

The PCR test is expensive and it takes at least 4 hours to process. It is more reliable than antigen tests but still yields false results. The Japanese say they don’t give antigen tests because the reliability is lower, even though results with recent generation kits are obtainable in as little as 15 minutes with (currently) 60 to 80% accuracy.

Antigen tests are also cheaper and can be repeated. But they only show results when the disease is active. You need a certain viral load to generate antigens, obviously. Fortunately, the CEO of Softbank, who is one of the richest men in Japan — and Korean — has stepped forward, ordering 12 million antigen test kits for the use of his employees and the public.

The PCR test ideally shows the virus even in cases of minimal viral load before symptoms appear, say the authorities as they dismiss the need for antigen kits — which they make but sell to the Russians.

But why is that PCR testing is only available in Japan after symptoms present themselves and often require a 3 day wait during which time, after which most pre-emptive antiviral treatments such as Avigan or HCQ will not work?

Clearly, PCR tests given only when an antigen kit would do as well. Why?

Answer: the Ministry of Health kowtowing to Japan Inc. And that insular meme: “we’re Japanese.” Homo Japanicus.

Insularity is something the Japanese share with the Brits who are also in trouble, thinking they are “different”. Homo Britannicus.

This kind of non-thinking is what doomed the Japanese in the Pacific War, a carrier war that they thought they could fight with WWI type battleships, which they continued to build until the end. Nor could they adapt air warfare strategies, relying on airborne Bushido. No strategy. No adaptability. No policy.

We’re Japanese….

The Japanese do have some cultural advantages. They are used to wearing masks which help limit the spread of viruses. They don’t have as much physical contact, except when drunk. The don’t shake hands or hug. Their affective (social) distance is further away in conversation. But such habits only slow things down.

When kids go back to school and offices open up, forget the 3 C’s. Closed spaces. Crowded places. Close contact.

The Chinese, Vietnamese and Koreans are pragmatic. The Japanese?

When the Second Wave hits, they will have lost the war bigly.



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Julian Macfarlane

Journalist media analyst, author. Publishes on evolution, psychology, anthropology, zoology, music, art, neurology., geopolitics,.