Many foreign observers are puzzled by Japan’s odd response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which some call a “soft lockdown.” After dithering for weeks, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe finally exercised power granted under the recently revised New Influenza Special Measures Act to declare a state of emergency on April 7 over Tokyo and six other prefectures, authorizing prefectural governors to request social-distancing measures and other actions.

Without exception, foreign news reports emphasized that the law does not mandate penalties for violation. That’s right. Under this law, governors like Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike can strongly request that people stay home but they cannot order them to do so.

Why doesn’t Japan’s pandemic law provide mandatory power? At least one major foreign publication has declared that Japan’s Constitution would need to be amended to impose and enforce a lockdown.