A Personal Journal From January to April 2021

Kalani M. Fujiwara
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald

Japan’s vaccination efforts started with the vaccination of all medical personnel in Japan on February 2021. Since Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was the only vaccine approved by the Japanese government, the vaccination process started late and slow compared to the other G-7 nations. By late March, residents in Japan from the ages of 80 to 90 started their first vaccination. As soon as this age group started getting their Pfizer vaccine, there were problems with the appointment system, which prevented residents from getting the appointed day and time for their vaccination. There were more problems such as residents canceling their appointment at the last minute, or worse, not showing up at all, which wasted the vaccine since the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine had a very short shelf life once it was opened. 

As April 2021 flew by and at the start of May 2021, the vaccination of residents was slow, but orderly. However, by this time only 3% to 4% of the population received their first COVID-19 vaccine compared to the 50% and 60% of the U.S. and U.K. population vaccinated. The Japanese government, with the cooperation of the local prefectural governments, were administering the COVID-19 vaccine by resident’s age. Thus, when May 2021 rolled around, residents aged 60 to 70 were next in line for their first vaccine. In my personal opinion, the next in line should have been the essential workers (delivery people, supermarket workers, truck drivers, social workers, etc.), who carried the Japanese society on their backs by coming to work every day since the pandemic started. However, the carefully laid plans to orderly ministering of the COVID-19 vaccine to the Japanese people by the COVID-19 vaccine task force headed by Minister Kono went off the rails due to the approach of the disorganized, ill lead, and pathetically prepared Squid Games … Oops, I meant to say the Tokyo Olympic games.

Olympic rings floating in Odaiba, Japan, May 2020. (Photo by Scott Kouchi, flickr.com)

I will digress a bit, “Squid Games” was the hit Korean dystopian series by Netflix that came out in the fall of 2021. It was a global hit for Netflix as it was the number one watched series by the video streaming service in over 90 countries. It depicted a sadistic organization run by a group of foreign VIPs, who take joy in watching poor and indebted people become contestants in life-or-death children’s games, all to win an extremely large monetary prize. In my opinion and experience living in Japan during this time of the pandemic, the Tokyo Olympics resembled the “Squid Games.” Foreign VIPS (International Olympic Committee) and the high Japanese business/government elites with vested economic interests in the Tokyo Olympics would call the shots regarding vaccination priorities and callously disregarded the Japanese public’s health and safety as well as their misgivings of hosting the Olympic games during the deadly Delta wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Thus, COVID-19 vaccination in Japan, which was supposed to be administered by age groups were ignored and turned into chaos with priority given to people involved in Squid Games (oops), I mean the Olympic games. People with connections in large corporations and organizations were able to bring their own supply of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines and just approved Moderna vaccines for “their” people. I was scheduled to receive my first vaccine in June, if the original priority was followed and instead, I would go on to receive my first shot in late August. However, friends of mine, who were Olympic “volunteers,” received the vaccine much earlier, which was rather disheartening since they were not the “essential” folks I had in mind. Ironically, one of my clients, whose spouse works for the Tokyo Olympic organization did not get her vaccine; however, volunteers got it before her. My client was able receive his vaccine since the organization he worked for knew a hospital director, who was able to “procure” Moderna vaccines for his organization. Thus my client was vaccinated before his spouse.

Overall, these are few personal examples of how the Olympic games gave me and a lot of people in Japan a bad taste in our mouths during the most deadly COVID-19 wave during this pandemic in Japan. However, the worst was about to happen during this most deadly time for Japan in the summer of 2021. As the Olympic games were happening, there were people in Japan dying of COVID-19 in their homes or unable to find a safe hospital bed for themselves. 

Kalani M. Fujiwara was born in Japan and raised in Hawai‘i. He formerly taught political science at Kapi‘olani Community College and Honolulu Community College for 20 years. He lived in Japan off and on altogether for 12 years. He is currently living in Japan for the third time.


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