“Within a year there was fire on the ridges and deranged chanting. There has been cannibalism. Cannibalism is the great fear. Mostly I worry about food. Always food. Food and the cold and our shoes.” – The Road (2009)
So I’ve been wrestling with the idea of doing this article for awhile. Firstly, because there are so many articles on Coronavirus out there, I thought the Internet would be over saturated and sick of them by now. Secondly, because I thought that the hysteria would die down in a few months, but obviously that is not the case. Watching the way the world has handled the COVID-19 outbreak, I feel that Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic novel and film, The Road, is more relevant today than ever.
In this article, I’m going to talk about my personal experiences with COVID-19 in Tokyo, from the beginning of the outbreak to now. I’ll go over the state of Tokyo and Japan from the everyday citizen’s perspective, and how daily life and businesses are being affected by Coronavirus in Japan.
To put the article into perspective, I’m not as worried about the mortality rate of the virus as much as I’m worried about it’s overall effect on social infrastructure. More importantly, the greatest fear is the pandemic’s ability to incite fear and mass hysteria in our global society. In the end, I’ll explain why above all else, I believe cannibalism is the greatest fear I have in wake of the novel Coronavirus.
Coronavirus in Japan: Outbreak and Impulse Buying
As you likely know by now, the novel Coronavirus COVID-19 started in Wuhan and broke out near the very end of December in China. In the 1st week of January, while the virus was in its infancy, my girlfriend went on a business trip to Shenzen, China.
Naturally, I was worried despite the fact that the virus had not yet officially spread to any other countries. So I told my girlfriend to be careful, and I went online to buy masks just in case the virus were to come to Japan. Why? Because hysteria spreads very quickly in Japan.
During Typhoon Hagibis in 2019, supermarkets and convenience stores sold out of bread. Virtually everything else was untouched except for bread and instant ramen. I’ve heard people say it was because bread can be eaten without being cooked, and thus was a good food to stock up on in case of a power outage.
After the typhoon passed, there were virtually no power outages in Tokyo and people likely had more bread than their family could hope to eat. I think the more likely reason why bread sold out instead of cereal, nuts, power bars, or canned food, was a mixture of its convenience and social media.
On Twitter and Facebook people shared photos of supermarket shelves empty of bread, as if it were a post-apocalyptic zombie film. In my opinion, this sparks the idea “Oh. Everyone else is buying bread. There must be a good reason. Therefore, I should do the same just in case.” The mixture of logic (albeit flawed) and hive mentality leads to the over purchasing of certain goods.
So, while my girlfriend was in China I bought us a pair of washable and reuseable masks with disposable filters. Now, obviously I’m glad I did since masks are virtually sold out in Tokyo and continue to sell out everyday (despite medical professionals saying they do little, if anything, to stop the spread of COVID-19). By the way, those masks that I bought (below) are now completely sold out on Amazon, as are most masks.
Impulse Buying Due to Coronavirus in Japan
Once the Coronavirus hit Japanese shores, and came via the Crown Princess cruise, the impulse buying didn’t stop at masks.
A coworker of mine shared an article in our office Slack channel about a group of people arrested in China for robbing a store. They didn’t steal anything particularly expensive. Instead, they robbed the store for toilet paper. With the article, my coworker said “Haha. It might be worth it to stock up on toilet paper just in case.”
Weary of the impulse buying that happens in Japan, I followed my coworker’s advice and bought 16 rolls of toilet paper (enough to last me and my girlfriend 2 months or so). Luckily, I did, because just two weeks after that joke, virtually all the toilet paper was sold out in Tokyo.
Some people have said that the buying of toilet paper was due to misinformation. Because of the outbreak, many toilet paper manufacturers in China closed down. Some people assumed that Japanese toilet paper products were made in China.
Therefore, no more toilet paper manufacturing in China would equal no more toilet paper exports to Japan. Thus, these people started buying up all the toilet paper. Again, photos of store shelves void of toilet paper were all over social media.
However, it turns out that 97% of Japanese toilet paper is made domestically. Therefore, the logic of this concern was flawed and the impulse to stock up on toilet paper was unfounded.
Along with toilet paper, it is virtually impossible to find hand sanitizer in most Tokyo stores. Pharmacies see lines of people outside the door over an hour before they open, all waiting to get their hands on a pack of masks. To this day, pharmacies sell out of masks within minutes of opening everyday. One of the scariest things about Coronavirus in Japan is not its mortality rate, but its ability to incite illogical actions.
“The mixture of logic (albeit flawed) and hive mentality leads to the over purchasing of certain goods.”
Decline in Tourism & Hospitality Industries
It is evident everyday that we are seeing less and less tourists in Tokyo. How does that affect us? Well, for the everyday citizen, we experience less-crowded trains (but not by much). We see less people on the streets and less people in restaurants. Many people opt to stay home on their days off, cook at home, or order delivery in hopes of minimizing contact with other people.
While most people aren’t affected by that, people who own restaurants or work in the travel industry definitely feel this decline. It is strongly affecting the Japanese economy which normally sees millions of foreign tourists visiting the country every month. Personally, I still eat out multiple times a week both to help these restaurants stay afloat, and because it’s quite nice never having to wait for a table anymore.
Change in Business Practices Due to Coronavirus in Japan
Aside from the tourism and hospitality industries, most companies are business as usual. However, there have been great policies put in place to protect workers and prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
Firstly, many companies are allowing their workers to work remotely. This is both to help keep their employees safe, and support parents with young children. Since the closure of schools in Japan, parents were faced with the need to provide care for their children during the times they’d normally be at school.
Many companies have different versions of this policy. For example, my company has enacted an amazing no-questions-asked work from home policy. Many of my coworkers have used it freely, and I’ve chosen to work from home 3 out of 5 working days in the week.
A friend of mine who works for Google is forced to work from home 5 out of 5 days in the week, and my girlfriend’s company has done work from home days in rotations. This means that certain days are her mandatory remote work days, and other days she’ll be in the office and some of her coworkers will be forced to work from home that day.
Lastly, many companies have enforced bans on international or domestic travel for business purposes.
Why Cannibalism is the Great Fear
In Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic novel The Road, Cannibalism was the great fear because there was no more food left on the planet and survivors were literally eating each other to survive.
With that act of eating another to sustain themselves, these people made the moral decision that there livelihood was more important than another person’s, enough to the point of killing that person just to sustain their bodies for a few more days.
While we are obviously nowhere near that level of desperation, what’s happening today is the result of the same form of moral conflict that leads to cannibalism.
In Tokyo, buying up all the masks (which are ineffective at preventing the virus in the first place) means people who actually need them are at risk. For instance, a coworker of mine said his mother-in-law was undergoing treatment for an illness which weakens her immune system. To visit her, all visitors would need to weak masks to prevent the spreading of germs in her room. However, her health care facility was quickly running out of masks (for visitors) because tons of healthy people were stocking up on them.
In the United States, there has been racist illogical harassment against Asians, with aggressors claiming Asians were at fault for the pandemic. These incidents have led to full-on physical assaults.
Why this is so scary is because COVID-19 is only in its infancy. Infectious disease expert Michael Osterholm on the Joe Rogan podcast explains how the virus has only begun to spread. He conservatively forecasts that the virus will continue to spread and infect hundreds of thousands of more people in the next 6 months.
If the virus is only in its infancy with a mortality rate of 2-4% and we are already seeing irrational assaults and hoarding of supplies, imagine what would happen if there were a more infectious virus with a mortality rate of 10%?
What I’m more afraid of than the Coronavirus is the fear it incites in people and the irrational things people do as a result of that fear. In many ways, we are engaging in cannibalism. By hoarding resources we don’t need we are eating away at the livelihoods of the people who do need them.
By turning against each other and fighting one another, we are hurting each other when we should be working together to find a vaccine or proper containment solutions.
Truthfully, cannibalism is the great fear and I fear things will continue to get worse unless we as individuals make a decision to act with logic. We need to think things through instead of acting on impulse. No one will blame you for thinking of your family first. Who wouldn’t? However, there are ways to protect ourselves without harming others. Let’s all take a deep breath, not panic, and find a way through this pandemic together.
How is Coronavirus affecting your community? Let us and our readers know in the comments below! Don’t forget to check out my previous article Something Happened on the Train Today.
Looking to track the spread of the virus? Check out this list of global COVID-19 datasets and statistics for each country.