The Unfortunate and Absurd Japanese Xenophobia in Covid-19 Context
As the saying goes, a leopard cannot change its spots.
With the Coronavirus 🦠 sanitary crisis, old Japanese habits came back under the guise of cautiousness, whereas they are in fact confining to xenophobia.
Never mind that a global pandemic is by definition impacting all the countries in the world, Japan has, during the last months, made poor decisions, often unfortunate, sometimes cruel, but always vexing from an outsider point of view and that will not help improve the diplomatic image of the archipelago.
Borders closed to foreign residents during 5 months
We wrote many times about the fact that the Japanese government had decided to build an iniquitous wall when closing the borders in late March 2020.
Indeed, only Japanese citizens (or those who could manage to keep a dual citizenship and passport) were authorized to travel freely overseas and come back to Japan. All the others were either:
- Stranded overseas, without being able to come back in their country of adoption,
- Stuck in Japan, as they had no possibility to know when they would be able to return if they ever left Japan.
It gave rise to terrible situations, such as the impossibility to take care of a dying relative in one’s home country or even to attend their funerals. And for those who were unlucky enough to be outside Japan when the borders closure was announced (for example for professional reasons), they still had to pay their rent, taxes or employees in Japan but were forbidden to come back to Japan and reunite with family! An absurd punishment…
Thus, about 100,000 foreign residents had to face this situation that was unique in the world, and according to many, was breaching the human rights.
But Japanese leaders did not care during 160 long days, and it was not until September 1rst that foreign residents could return "freely":
- Almost one month after international schools’ teachers;
- At the same time as government-sponsored students or athletes qualified for the Olympics;
- Only a few weeks before businessmen, the other new students and working-holiday visa holders.
No foreign tourist since late March 2020 but a foolish GoTo Travel campaign
As every Kanpai’s reader knows since spring: tourists have not been allowed in Japan since 2020 sakura 🌸 season, and possibly for several month in 2021. More precisely, tourism visa is the last type not to be authorized entry in Japan (see below about the new borders’ closure in January 2021).
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To compensate the loss of the yearly 30 million foreign visitors and support a drained tourism industry, the government came up with a brilliant idea: sponsoring domestic tourism by a pharaonic financing campaign amounting to $12,7 billion.
The campaign named "GoTo Travel" started at the end of July 2020 and was designed to last until the end of June 2021. In November, 40 million travels were booked, especially thanks to a 3-days holidays where airports and train 🚅 stations were overcrowded, as well as the most attractive destinations such as Kyoto.
Despite the warnings of Japanese healthcare professionals for months, especially regarding the GoTo Eat campaign toward restaurants, and even an adjuration to the government to stop it during the rising of the 3rd wave in November, it was only the following month that political dinosaurs deigned put the campaign on pause, but only for a few days during the New year holidays, and after the Japanese hospitals not-so-vast capacity was threatened.
The spreading of Coronavirus imputed to foreigners
As anywhere in the world, Japanese political and health authorities communicate on a regular basis about the evolution of the epidemic on the territory, try to understand the spreading causes and give instructions and advices to slow down the spread of the virus.
On November 12, during a 2-hour long press conference, 4 minutes were dedicated to non-Japanese (from the 35th min of the video). Whereas the statistics introduced showed a very low number of clusters among them, the speaker targeted foreign nationals living in Japan only to point their low level of Japanese language, then stated that a better multilingual information should be provided in local healthcare centers, embassies or in the official communication on the Internet 📶.
However, television channels, which participate actively to the news broadcasting, have focused on this short moment about foreign nationals in Japan. Despite the fact that there are no detailed data, especially about PCR or serological tests performed, to confirm this assumption, the idea that the gaijin is both impure and responsible of the situation spreads in the Japanese collective psyche.
But this anecdote is far from as cynical as the example shown by the country’s leaders.
Whereas the Japanese government has urged the population to refrain eating in groups of more than four persons, the Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga organized on December 14 a dinner with 10 persons (including personalities from TV and baseball) in the luxurious Ginza district of Tokyo.
One of the participants, Toshihiro Nikai, who, incidentally, is secretary-general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, tried to give an explanation after this event stirred angry reactions in the population. He said that it was not a "dinner party" but "a meeting to exchange opinions" that happened during a dinner… Nuance is key.
As for the Minister of Defense Nobuo Kishi, he took part in a party where the Navy chief of staff and his deputy were contaminated by the Coronavirus.
More tragic is the death of Yuichiro Hata, a former Transport Minister, who was 53 years old. His death was announced on December 27. He was to be tested on the same day as he had suffering of fever for several days. The autopsy confirmed that Covid-19 was the cause of his death. He was the first Japanese politician to succumb to the virus.
New total closure in January 2021 after introduction of new virus strain by Japanese travelers
The announcement shortly before Christmas of a new and more virulent Covid-19 strain has naturally shaken many countries, which adapted quickly and on a temporary basis their measures regarding the entrance of travelers from the United Kingdom. But no country has reacted as violently as Japan. See for yourself.
Whereas the 7 first persons infected on the Japanese archipelago, announced on December 26, were all Japanese coming back from the United Kingdom (and quite naturally since 93% of the 150 daily arrivals in December were Japanese people), the reaction came disproportionate and inflexible: the borders were closed within a few hours to any non-resident, foreign national, during at least one month!
And those who were granted a visa just a few days before must not complain as they had a couple of days until January 3 to enter Japan.
The only positive aspect: Japanese citizens must (at last!) take a PCR test 72 hours before their flight ✈️ back, as anyone entering the Japanese territory.
Fortunately, the archipelago will continue to offer an incredible variety of landscapes, architectures, and gastronomical pleasures.
Fortunately, "Cool Japan" will not cease to spread its attractive popular culture in every corner of the world.
Fortunately, the population and local hospitality workers will always welcome tourists with pleasure and friendliness.
2021 will be rich in events (especially vaccination and Olympic Games 🏅) that will hopefully lead to the complete opening of the borders.
Foreign visitors will quickly forget these incidents, if they ever heard about them, and for the good reason that they will be well cared of in their next trip. However, current and prospective expatriates were reminded again that they will never be considered like Japanese people and that they will always be treated differently.
Japan remains a wonderfully friendly touristic destination, but a harsh country of adoption and it is in the continuity of its history.