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Coronavirus: why Japanese people with covid-19 feel obliged to ask …

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Coronavirus: why Japanese people with covid-19 feel obliged to ask ...

Japanese people often apologize for many things. Even because they're sick.

If the patient is a famous person, the request for forgiveness is almost a moral obligation and becomes a media event, as has occurred in the current coronavirus pandemic scenario.

According to Professor of the Department of International Studies at Tokai University, Daisuke Onuki, in Japan it is customary for famous infected people to apologize, as it is understood that they would be causing a kind of disorder or discomfort (meiwaku, in Japanese).

"It is very important to follow this rule in order to survive in our country. We cannot cause meiwaku, exposing other people to inconvenient situations or causing anxiety in them."

It was precisely for this reason that actor Junichi Ishida, 66, ended up being the target of defenders of "moral shame". In mid-April he was on the Japanese island of Okinawa and felt unwell there. Back in Tokyo and suspected of having pneumonia, he was hospitalized after receiving the diagnosis of covid-19.

Ishida wrote a letter with a public apology for the disorder he claims to have caused by becoming infected, but fans have nevertheless failed to criticize him on social media.

People began to demand a detailed itinerary of his trip to Okinawa and called him irresponsible for leaving the capital when there was government guidance for voluntary social isolation.

Social pressure

Japan had as of Tuesday (26) 16,581 confirmed cases of infection and 830 deaths. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the country has not imposed restrictive measures such as the lockdown.

The state of emergency enacted in April by the central government did not impose a mandatory quarantine, but it did allow provincial authorities to recommend residents to limit their travel and encourage businesses to temporarily close.

Social isolation guidelines continue throughout the country, even after the state of emergency has been suspended in 39 provinces. The emergency continues in 8 other regions, such as Tokyo and Osaka, despite the successive drop in the number of confirmed cases in the Japanese capital, with a daily average below 30.

In Japan, what made people socially distant from each other was not the police force, nor punishment in the form of fines or imprisonment, says Professor Onuki. "It was social pressure that kept people at home."

By prioritizing work as the anchor of a newscast and ignoring some mild symptoms associated with covid-19, Yuta Tomikawa, 43, ended up becoming another public figure to apologize for the infection.

As soon as the test was confirmed with a positive result, TV Asahi announced measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and, on its news, reported the infection of its main anchor. Two days later, he returned to the topic with the reading of the apology note sent by the presenter.

However, criticism of the professional continued, and became more intense when two more cases were confirmed at the station where he works.

Like Professor Onuki, researcher in the Department of Psychology at Meiji Gakuin University, Sosuke Miyamoto, emphasizes the fundamental role of the concept of meiwaku in Japanese culture.

"Through their action, a person can cause another individual to be annoyed, causing him to suffer some kind of disadvantage or feel uncomfortable."

He explains that even if it does not cause any direct harm to another person, an apology is expected for the simple fact of having triggered a psychological effect of discomfort or an extra concern.

For someone not used to Japanese culture, it is difficult to understand what guilt a person would have for being infected with covid-19. Miyamoto says that public figures when they get sick attract the attention of a larger group of individuals, concerned and anxious about the celebrity's state of health.

In Brazil, the most common thing is to thank them for their interest and solidarity, while in Japan apologies for the inconvenience with a personal health issue.

Quarantine for contacts

Covid-19 made the burden of guilt even greater. Because it is a highly contagious disease, more people end up being directly affected.

"The family, colleagues and everyone else who had contact in the recent past with the infected individual will have to be quarantined," recalls Onuki.

Defender who defended the Japanese national team in the 2018 Russian Cup, Gotoku Sakai, 29, says he has taken every precaution to avoid contagion, but ended up testing positive for the covid-19.

His concern was that he had not infected the rest of the team, which he did not.

The announcement was made in late March on the official website of Vissel Kobe, his current club. The statement included an apology from player Sakai for the concern caused.

"I believe that everyone is taking the necessary precautions during this period. I also have a professional thought and avoided crowds, washed my hands and was careful in my actions. However, the events happened this way and I feel upset about it. "

Discrimination against infected

Professor Onuki says it would be a mistake to use an infected person's apology to justify his guilt.

However, he says, the coronavirus outbreak has left people restless, insecure and at a level of stress that leads them to consider the other as a threat, when in fact the enemy is the virus.

In one of the episodes in Fukushima Prefecture, students and school staff were ridiculed after a teacher tested positive for the coronavirus.

In view of the growing number of reports of similar cases, the Ministry of Education even advised schools to take measures to avoid discrimination between their students and teachers when they resume classes after the suspension of activities determined by the government.

The concern with the spread of the coronavirus would be leading to an increase in the surveillance of others with the use of the internet to monitor and report individuals and companies that fail to comply with the government's recommendations for social isolation,

In a country with a reduced territorial dimension like Japan, people learn early to not only think about their own well-being.

"Since childhood we have been trained to pay attention to how others feel," says Onuki. He recalls that one of the most valued virtues in Japanese is the ability to guess what others want.

But a wrong assessment can create new problems. Thinking about excesses and distortions, the Japanese Red Cross launched in April, an animated video with the title "What comes after the virus?" The material was produced by the team of clinical psychology and disaster medicine, and reflects on the current scenario.

According to the video, one of the greatest dangers of the outbreak is the fear fueled by false information and which infests our minds. It can turn into mistrust and make us more vulnerable to the disease. "We are going to be together and be stronger and smarter than fear," he recommends.

Various ways to apologize

In Japan, apologizing is a social ritual taken to the extreme. For mild cases, the simplest form is verbalized and manifested with a slight inclination of the body.

In serious situations, the request should be more dramatic and made with people kneeling in a sign of deep regret, in a gesture known as dogeza.

In the event that the train is delayed by a few seconds, for example, the apology is announced through the station's speakers.

However, if thousands of people are affected by a more prolonged and serious cause, a press conference (shazai kaiken) may take place with executives reading a request for forgiveness and then bowing for minutes in front of journalists.

This scene occurred recently in Aichi Prefecture, but for another reason. In early May, government officials accidentally posted private data on 490 coronavirus patients to the Internet.

"In the midst of unfair discrimination against patients and their families, the Province that was supposed to protect them ended up publishing confidential information. I sincerely apologize," said the director of the local health department. The page with the data had been visible for 45 minutes and had 362 views.


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