In Japan, the main obstacle to achieving the kind of widespread self-isolation necessary for limiting the spread of the coronavirus is thought to be the country's work culture. The government, which has always favored policies that benefit the private sector, is averse to countermeasures that would place a burden on business activities, and so mostly counts on employers to self-police their own activities.

The media likes to focus on specific examples of what it is about Japanese work culture that isn't compatible with requests to stay at home and practice social distancing. One such focus has been on hanko, the carved seals and stamps used in lieu of signatures for official documents, and whose use requires even those people working from home to travel in person to the office to get their work approved. In any case, the Nihon Keizai Shimbun reported on April 13 that, following the state of emergency announced by the government, the decrease in inbound commuters wasn't as great as it should have been.

However, work culture itself did not give rise to the epidemic. What has been more central to the virulence of COVID-19 is global urbanization. In its April 10 issue, the Asahi Shimbun asked several experts to comment on the current crisis and what it means for the future of Japan's social structure. Shinichi Takemura, a professor at Kyoto University of the Arts, predicts a shift from the current mass urbanization of the planet to a pastoral-suburban model that spreads the economic and governmental functions of a state more evenly, obviating the need for people to move long distances en masse to work in densely populated city centers. This idea, which Takemura argues has been discussed by social scientists since the industrial revolution of the 19th century and was the model for the "new town" concept that Japan promoted during its postwar growth period, seems to confound current trends toward greater density for the sake of sustainability, but what he proposes is simply to make that density more manageable.