A Personal Journal from October 2021 through January 2022
Kalani M. Fujiwara
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
After Halloween day 2021, the constitutionally mandated lower house elections came to conclusion with the expected victory by the ruling conservative Liberal Democratic Party and it’s partner political party Komeito. Aside from a few high-profile election losses by ruling party politicians, the LDP and Komeito alliance won a comfortable majority in the parliament to rule Japan. This electoral victory gave Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and his administration a minor boost and a new start with a promise of political stability. Prime Minister Kishida promised a laser-like focus on dealing with the pandemic, helping to increase efforts in providing timely booster shots for the COVID-19 vaccine for all residents in Japan and availability of medical treatments and facilities to deal with the next COVID-19 waves.
Prime Minister Kishida and his administration were mindful of the Japanese public’s volatility and questioned how Japan will deal with the continuing COVID-19 pandemic. Thus, his administration attempted to show the skeptical Japanese public how serious he and his ministers were taking the COVID-19 pandemic and ways to find a conclusion. Prime Minister Kishida knew his time in office and the time allotted to make a favorable public image was limited. The Japanese public will have another say on the efforts by his administration and the LDP and Komeito alliance in the upper house elections of the Japanese parliament in July of 2022. Thus, his efforts or photo ops in the initial months of his time in office focused on how he was serious in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. He promised that the vaccine booster shots would be provided within six months of the second vaccination shot for all residents in Japan. Personally, after the debacle of the initial vaccination efforts, I was very skeptical that the prime minister could back his promise of providing timely booster shots of the vaccine.
By fall 2021, as the Delta variant wave subsided, the state of emergency was lifted in October and rules regarding dining out and movement was relaxed throughout Japan. Like the rest of the world, much of the Japanese people were feeling the “pandemic fatigue” after dealing with months of restrictions due to the state of emergency. Social events like concerts and sporting events slowly started happening with increase capacity. Tokyo Disneyland increased the number of daily visitors from 5,000 to 10,000. Looking back, November and December 2021 would be seen as another lull between the infection waves.
After 20 months of the pandemic, life was normal in Japan as it can be during this unprecedented pandemic. Majority of the Japanese public still diligently continue to mask and follow the social distancing rules like the beginning of the pandemic. Infection rates were dropping as well as the serious cases that require hospitalization. However, in the back of our minds was that another COVID-19 wave would be hitting us. Thus, enjoying the wonderful fall season was the norm. People were dining out, but there were barriers in the seats and counters in dining establishments. Temperature was checked upon entering a shop or restaurants and you were asked to sanitize your hands as well. For the Japanese public, these measures and masking just became a normal everyday part of life in Japan.
As expected, the sixth wave of COVID-19 infections started in December 2021 with the initial Omicron variant. Infection cases started to rise again as well as serious hospitalization cases. As true to his word, Prime Minister Kishida immediately worked on efforts to increase hospital and quarantine facilities to deal with the sixth wave of infection. His administration expedited the offering of the vaccine booster shots to the public. He immediately rescinded efforts of relaxation for entering Japan to foreigners and instituted a complete ban. This action angered the foreign residents and foreign companies in Japan. It was seen as being too excessive, xenophobic and with no benefit in mitigation of the rate of infections. But to the Japanese public, it was popular action and Prime Minister Kishida’s public approval ratings skyrocketed. To the Japanese public, Prime Minister Kishida and his administration was seen being true to their word on focusing on dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic vigorously unlike the lackadaisical efforts of his predecessor.
As January 2022 rolled around, the sixth wave of Omicron infection reached it’s peak and did not subside until late February. Quasi-state of emergency was enacted all throughout Japan and the difference this time was that the prefectural governors were given the necessary legal powers to enact measures to control people’s movement and economic restrictions. Thus, a nationwide state of emergency was not initiated for the sixth wave. The public reason for this action was that the initial Omicron infections did not lead to high fatality count as the previous variant infections. However, the big reason would be that the Japanese public was already showing signs of “pandemic fatigue” and another nationwide state of emergency will lead to a negative view that this pandemic will never end. Thus, negative approval rating for Prime Minister Kishida and his administration by the public, therefore the “quasi-state of emergency” was hatched in which the local leaders have the authority in dealing with the rate of COVID-19 infections within their prefectural borders. Basically, aside from the stringent control of the borders of Japan, Prime Minister Kishida punted the COVID-19 football to the prefectural governments.