Staying safe while face to face during COVID-19
What to do (and not to do) while trying to protect yourself
Businesses and employees have found different ways to protect themselves during the COVID-19 pandemic in Japan. Many wear masks (some more properly than others). Some have turned to work online. Others have tried to social distance while maintaining the exceptional level of service that everyone has come to expect while in Japan.
However, there are times when maintaining that distance can be challenging. What do you do? Here's my take.
When in Rome
I've lived and traveled in a number of countries before and the one thing, the singular most important thing, that I've learned to do is to know the law and know the people. If the law says something - say, to wear a mask - and your partner is not doing so, that will make your conversation much easier because you know what should and what should not be.
That said, in Japan, things get a little complicated. First of all, there are no legally binding laws regarding behavior during the COVID-19 situation. I've heard that there are fines being implemented in the event that businesses do not comply with the government recommendations, but in terms of how individuals behave, it's pretty much a self-policed situation.
If you've spent any amount of time working in Japan, you'll recognize this as being an extension of a deep culture here where the "unsaid agreements" and "understandings" about how things should go are more important than what the policy or law actually says.
So, as a guest in this country, we're left with the other: knowing the people. The best thing to do is observe and learn what other Japanese do. It'd probably be a good thing to learn more about Japan and Japanese people, which will give you a good idea of how to interact with them while you're here, particularly during these sensitive times as well!
Show, don't tell
When you've attempted to speak politely to the individual or cite local laws and rules (that may or may not be enforced in the area or business), the only thing you can really control is yourself. While waiting in the cashier line, I've left the line to line up again away from people who I've confronted but insist on standing right next to me.
I've explained, in detail, to strangers who seem a little annoyed that I've asked him to back off ("There is a pandemic going on now in Japan and it's better than you don't stand right next to me, for your safety and mine"). I'm normally not a fan of confrontation either, but sometimes it's better to demonstrate what your expectation is, so there's no confusion.
Stay safe everybody!
As much as the importance of the "community" and omotenashi is preached in Japan, what is most important is that you keep yourself safe. Keep following the news and do what you can to remain healthy, whether it is getting the vaccine when it becomes available, staying in as much as you can, or being proactive when outside.
Kevin is a professional writer with experience in music, education, news media and entertainment. He graduated from the University of Toronto with a degree in English before moving to Japan for work. He's lived all over Japan, spending time in Kanto, Chubu, Kinki and Okinawa.
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