B.B. Boudreau

Novelist | Singer

Taking a Lesson from Japan

I recently watched a report on the BBC, which is becoming more and more our choice for news, particularly during this COVID pandemic. Every other news station has become, well, something other than news.
The report was about mask wearing in Japan. A view of the pedestrians emerging from Shinagawa Station in Tokyo was remarkable. The scene was shot outside, and everyone, to a person was wearing a mask, and all the masks were clean, medical-type. The best part was that no one told the Japanese to wear masks. There was no proclamation, there was no edict. They just did it. Because they do things that serve the greater good without being asked or told.
They don’t complain, they don’t protest. Things get dicey, and they immediately do what is required to keep everyone as safe as possible. When I lived in Japan, I would occasionally see people wearing masks on the street. Every once in a while, one of my students would wear one to class, for the entire class, never taking it off. Why? Because they had a cold, and were shielding everyone else from their virus. They were thinking about everyone else, not about themselves, or their rights, or their freedom. And it was automatic, never questioned, never debated. They didn’t think about how “silly” they might look wearing a mask, and I’ll bet that everyone in Japan had a box of disposable masks in their medicine cabinet, so that wearing masks at the outbreak of the COVID meant no more than opening the cabinet and taking out their box of masks. They didn’t have to go out and buy them or order them. They already had them. Evidently the typical Japanese person goes through 43 masks per year.
We’ve had four months to figure out how to deal with this pandemic. Currently, in the US, the death rate from COVID is 400 per million, in the UK, 600 per million. Guess what it is in Japan? Seven per million. Those statistics speak for themselves. As a culture, we are a sad example of cooperation.
We are literally losing close to 400 people more than necessary, while the solution is to realize the intelligence of doing something so very minor as wearing a face mask to keep our germs to ourselves. Japan is no longer in any kind of “shutdown.” They are behaving, they are distancing, but most importantly, they are wearing masks without even being asked because they value their culture and those around them. Japan is a tough place to socially distance. It has half the population of the US in a country about the size of California. Public transport and sidewalks are often shoulder to shoulder. Even in those conditions, they are far surpassing our country’s success with this novel virus.
If in the US, we clearly don’t value our community or those around us, it means in fact that we don’t value ourselves, because we are all so intrinsically connected that it is impossible to assess our “individuality” or our “freedom” without also assessing our place within our own culture. And the rumor that this is all a hoax? I’m beginning to believe there’s something seriously wrong with us.
This report from Japan should be enough to convince Americans that wearing masks is the solution and should be followed, never mind “enforced.” We are a pitifully self-concerned population, and this has become glaringly obvious during this pandemic. One person’s “individual rights” should not supersede another person’s life. JFK once famously said, “The rising tide lifts all the boats.” Until the US as a country can embrace this kind of mindset, we’re going to continue to fail during this pandemic.


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