Lives are going up in smoke.
“What the… that’s my company!”
Imagine the shock. Scanning the news online, you suddenly discover your employer’s gone bankrupt. You’re unemployed. After 15 years, couldn’t they at least have told him?
There’s so much to tell, so many to tell. Courtesies here and there get lost in the confusion.
Spa magazine (June 30) tells the man’s story: “Yusuke Sunayama” (a pseudonym), worked for a foreign airline. He was posted overseas. There he met his wife. There his child was born. He’s 44. What now?
There are worse stories than his. Which is better: to be infected by COVID-19 but have a job to go back to when you recover, or to be healthy and jobless?
Sunayama is one of very many indirect victims of the pandemic. With air travel virtually paralyzed, his employer buckled. Similarly hard hit are the restaurant, hotel and hospitality industries. A 44-year-old restaurant manager Spa speaks to was let go during Golden Week. In the six weeks since, he’s sent job applications to 73 companies, resulting in two interviews and no job offers.
The coronavirus is not the only peril, maybe not even the worst one. A potential global catastrophe brews along the Chinese-Indian border. If skirmishes there intensify, the worst-case scenario stops us in our tracks — nuclear war between the world’s two largest armies whose nations together comprise one-third of the human race.
It would be interesting to do a poll asking people what they fear most — coronavirus infection, coronavirus unemployment, or the second (the first was in 1962) Sino-Indian war. A question for another day, perhaps.
Spa poses a quite different question to three women whose husbands have lost jobs since COVID-19 emerged. How did their husbands tell them?
Via messaging app Line, fumes “Kyoko.” “He could at least have told me in person!” she says, echoing Sunayama. That he didn’t may be a measure of his pain. He’s 54. What are his prospects? “‘What are you going to do?’ I ask him. He barks, ‘Leave me alone, I’m thinking!’ It’s been three weeks now, him hanging around the house all day and moping. I say to him, ‘Don’t let the kids see you with that face! Find work, get a job, something, anything!’”
“My husband told me at bedtime,” says “Mayumi.” “My first thought was, ‘Why tell me now? I won’t be able to sleep!’”
“Yumi” worked part time in the chain-operated pub her husband managed. She was standing nearby when a phone call came from head office. She got the gist of it from her husband’s half of the conversation: They were being shut down. Their child attends a private elementary school. Where will next year’s fees come from? Nowhere they can think of. Nine hundred thousand yen is a considerable sum for a family with no income.
What now? What next? — questions we all face, in one form or another. The havoc wreaked is medical, economic, psychological, political — almost everything except meteorological; maybe that, too. Life as we knew it — innocently unmasked, casually convivial — is the broadest of all casualties. The government stepped into the vacuum, urging first jishuku (self-restraint), now a “new lifestyle.”
“Refrain from traveling up country or for leisure,” a post on the Cabinet Office website explains. “Business trips only when it is unavoidable. Keep a record of the people you meet and the time of meeting in case you get infected…. Keep physical distance. Avoid gatherings in crowded places…. Wear a mask when you go out or talk inside even without any symptoms.” And so on and so on — the list is long.
To writer and scholar Eiji Otsuka, in a conversation last month with the Asahi Shimbun, all this has ugly overtones — of politics invading daily life. He hears echoes of 1940. Then, too, the government — a militarist wartime government — urged citizens to adopt a “new lifestyle.” Citizens were to live frugally and make babies, freeing and creating resources for a national goal — victory — that overwhelmed the merely personal.
The analogy at first seems strained. The militarism Japan displayed in the 1930s and ’40s may be a disease, but government propaganda in that case is a symptom and an exacerbation, not, as the current “new lifestyle” suggestions may reasonably claim to be, a commonsensical and necessary health measure.
Their very banality is what makes them dangerous, Otsuka seems to be saying. Masking, handwashing and social distancing, in an epidemic, stir no resistance. A government enjoining elementary caution and safety is obeyed. Later, perhaps, the government will demand more of us with less justification. Will we obey then, too, obedience having become a habit?
Otsuka sees other disturbing parallels. The pride roused by Japan’s relatively low coronavirus death rate has, in his view, nationalist connotations. How to account for the comparatively few deaths? Something superior in the culture? In the genes? How long a leap is it from this to a master race ideology? A long one, admittedly. An impossible one? The historical evidence is all too well known.
Which is preferable — freedom and its risks, or supervision and its security? That, too, would make an interesting poll.
Big in Japan is a weekly column that focuses on issues being discussed by domestic media organizations. Michael Hoffman’s latest book, now on sale, is “Cipangu, Golden Cipangu: Essays in Japanese History.”
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