I work at a small government-funded tourism association in a prefecture outside of Tokyo. As of today (April 27), still more than a week before Japan is due to review its state of emergency, we have been ordered to resume tours of the prefecture, some of which involve distances of 150 km or more, with the caveat that we do not wear our work uniforms as this would reveal that a publicly funded organization is actively choosing to disregard government advice.

Our 26 staff members are continuing to work as normal. Proposals for telework and a rotation system were first discussed today — three weeks after the state of emergency was declared — and rapidly abandoned. Among the now well-known obstacles of the hanko system and reliance on faxes, one of the reasons given was that allowing some employees to work from home while others continue to commute would equate to “unfair treatment.” It seems, however, that requiring employees to make unnecessary journeys and visit tourist destinations, all as representatives of a government-funded organization, is completely fair. I also have no doubt that the response by my employer is similar to that outside of all but the largest multinational companies.

This blatant and officially-sanctioned disregard for the state of emergency and government advice is symptomatic of Japan's response overall, and of the culture of prioritizing work above all else.

More needs to be done to ensure the pandemic is taken seriously, not just in big cities and by large multinationals but also at the lower levels of government administration and in the smaller businesses that make up the majority of the Japanese economy.

However, if my experiences are anything to go by, Japan's response to the pandemic is no different from policies aimed at tackling the country's work-life imbalance: plenty of official rhetoric that gets ignored at the ground level. And, much like overwork, failure to implement these policies will inevitably go on to cost lives.


The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

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