INDULGENT LAWS CANNOT SAVE PEOPLE’S LIVES AGAINST WUHAN VIRUS
With new cases of coronavirus infection spiking across Japan, especially in Tokyo, popular Japanese soccer star Shinji Kagawa has made an appeal to all of us. “As you know,” he said, “a large number of Spaniards are suffering from the deadly virus. Unless we grapple squarely with this pandemic, the virus will easily spread unchecked. It is up to all of us to avoid infection. The concerted efforts of each of us is the only way to bring the virus under control when no effective vaccines or other countermeasures are available. I’d like to urge everyone to stay indoors as much as possible.”
Kagawa, a midfielder with the Spanish club Real Zaragoza, was cool and thoughtful in his Instagram video message with a “Stay Home” hashtag. Seven other young people found last week to have contracted the Wuhan virus—Shintaro Fujinami, a promising young pitcher with the Hanshin Tigers pro-baseball team, and six students who recently graduated from Kyoto Sangyo University—could have thwarted the virus had they acted as coolly and thoughtfully as Kagawa.
Now is the time for young people to exercise greater restraint, putting others before themselves. Those who take this road will be more impressive and dignified than those who don’t. They will be the sensible ones, the true gentlemen.
Alarmed by a sudden increase in confirmed infections in Tokyo, Governor Yuriko Koike issued an appeal to Tokyoites on March 30: “Until we win this war against the virus, I ask that young Tokyoites refrain from going to karaoke and live music clubs after dark, and that older Tokyoites stay away from popular establishments such as pubs, saloons, and nightclubs.”
Five days earlier, on March 25, Koike had called an urgent evening news conference to urge Tokyoites to avoid leaving home except for “essential needs.” Incredibly, a daily that questioned the legitimacy of her request asked its readers how they would define “essential.”
Couldn’t the daily’s editorial staff comprehend the governor’s message without someone interpreting it for them? Living in a country where basic human rights are guaranteed under the constitution, each of we Japanese is free to choose our own way of living and socializing within reason, with literally millions of different choices available. How we make these decisions is up to each of us. It is utterly immature and inappropriate of the daily to challenge readers to specify them.
Against this backdrop came Governor Koike’s second message, in which she spoke more concretely than five days earlier about the restrictions she was urging. I believe she was driven to be more concrete by the clusters of infection that had in the meantime sprung up among young people. It makes me want to once again remind these young people in their early twenties to grow up and act like adults. Listen to Shinji Kagawa. What were they thinking, taking a graduation trip to five European countries and partying the night away after they got back to Japan?
Japanese Youth Lacking Sense of Crisis
Japan’s ongoing fight against the coronavirus cannot be won without the concerted efforts of the government and civic communities across Japan. The younger generation may think, quite wrongly, they will probably get away with mild symptoms if they contract it. But they must realize that once infected, they will likely spread the virus to people around them, which may lead to their deaths. I urge young Japanese to bear that strictly in mind.
Meanwhile, the government has maintained a cautious stance regarding a state of emergency declaration by the prime minister, asserting that “the current situation does not warrant it.” Hopefully, the situation will be brought under control before deteriorating to such an extent as to require emergency measures. As we have begun to slowly realize, however, the fight against this new coronavirus cannot be won easily. For one thing, symptoms reportedly do not appear until a week to two weeks after being infected. But once a patient starts having symptoms, there may be a sudden and drastic deterioration of his or her physical condition. Popular comedian Ken Shimura passed away on March 29—just 12 days after having complained of “general malaise.”
The speed with which the virus spreads is just as dreadful. But aren’t we Japanese devoid of a real sense of crisis, in sharp contrast to the US and Europe? I think the prime minister should declare a state of emergency immediately in order to alert the people to have a keener sense of crisis at this juncture. I am confident that we Japanese are capable of dealing with any situation earnestly once we come to grips with the nature of the problem.
Japan functions as a sovereign state thanks to the keen sense of civic responsibility on the part of its people who share a traditional set of morals that highly value compassion for others. Our constitution and other laws are based on the theory that human nature is fundamentally good. Rather than turning to coercive and punitive measures, the state and our society have traditionally been run on the basis of people’s basic goodwill favoring altruism over egotism.
The revised “Emergency Special Measures Law,” enacted on March 13 as a prelude to a declaration of a state of emergency, is no exception. It is far from being designed to allow the government to assert complete authority over the people. But we must seriously question if Japan, in its present state as a nation that is ruled by laws based on man’s innate goodness, can win its war against the virus.
Based on Section 1 of Article 32 of the revised Emergency Special Measures Law, the prime minister is entitled to declare a state of emergency on two conditions: 1) an outbreak of COVID-19 in Japan, and 2) the rapid nationwide spread of the virus.
Economic Revitalization Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura commented recently on television that the conditions for 1) have been met but that those for 2) have not, explaining that the spread of the virus has yet to be viewed as “nationwide.” (Fuji TV “Sunday Prime” news show, March 29)
Given that Japan is a law-governed nation, a strict enforcement of the law is mandatory. But declaring a state of emergency only after acknowledging the nationwide proliferation of the virus will be too late. Despite the existential threat, the mindset of our leaders is that they cannot “use power to forcibly invoke the law.” What an indulgent nation Japan is.
Nation Capable of Defending itself
Let us for a moment review the revised Emergency Special Measures Law in order to figure out what will happen if a state of emergency is declared. It would empower prefectural governors to basically exercise the power to:
–“request” that people “shelter in place” and cooperate with the authorities in
–“request” such measures as limiting or suspending the use of facilities at schools,
welfareinstitutions, and theaters;
–“instruct” that these measures be honored if people initially fail to comply.
Governors could not resort to coercive means to implement these measures in an emergency. They could only “request” or at the most “instruct” that people cooperate.
The “danger of restrictions on private rights” frequently pointed out by liberal dailies, such as the Asahi Shimbun, involves only the following parts of this law:
–When the need arises in an emergency to utilize private land, property, or materials in
setting up temporary hospitals or other medical facilities, governors are entitled to do
so after first obtaining “the consent of the proprietors.” (Article 49, Paragraph 1);
–Governors are entitled to requisition such facilities if a proprietor fails to give
consent. (Article 49, Paragraph 2).
Should the number of infections climb suddenly, bringing into perspective the danger of the collapse of our medical care system, as happened in Italy, Spain, and the state of New York, hospital beds would have to be increased significantly in order to save as many lives as possible. It would be inevitable for governors to use available land for hospital construction. It would be everyone’s civic duty to comply. After all, these are the measures necessary to cope with an emergency, and it makes no sense in such extraordinary circumstances to regard them as infringing on our private rights.
Pointed out Professor Akira Momochi, emeritus law professor at Nihon University:
“Even in the US and European countries where, unlike China, basic human rights have historically been honored, governments have ordered citizens to ‘shelter in place’ and implemented the closure of shops and restaurants in rapid succession. France has ordered people to stay at home except for visits to nearby shops for daily necessities. In the US, President Trump has declared a national emergency over the pandemic, while California has ordered its citizens to not leave home. Some governments impose fines on those who go out for no legitimate reason.”
Can Japan protect its people against the onslaught of the deadly pandemic without invoking strict measures? Can it continue to survive this crisis under its indulgent legal framework based on the innate goodness of man? The answer is an emphatic “no.” Japan must transform itself into a nation capable of powerfully guiding its people, when necessary, in order to defend itself against all adversaries, including pandemics.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 896 in the April 9, 2020 issue of The Weekly Shincho)