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Preparing for the Post-Coronavirus Era: A view from Japan

Country Focus | 11 May 2020

Tokyo is quiet. The spread of Covid-19 means schools are closed and people are working remotely without commuting in packed trains. Events are being cancelled and sports games postponed. People are refraining from going out at night to drink and party.

According to TEIKOKU DATABANK (TDB), the coronavirus crisis forced companies from cruise ships and Japanese inns to private tutoring schools and tourism companies to go under with debts running up to JPY 1.2 billion Yen (approximately USD 11 million) in some cases.

In a TDB survey of more than 10,000 companies across Japan, more than 63% of companies projected that Covid-19 would have a “negative impact on their business performance.”

As we look to the future, unfortunately, we must face the consequences of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games’ one-year postponement – both events were expected to “provide a spark for the Japanese economy”.

We need to make up for this by changing the way we work, using remote working and moving businesses online, to keep the economy running. We will also need to deal with changing family relationships as more people work from home.

What can each company, organization and individual do in this time of crisis? We face the inevitability of preparing for the “post-corona” era. “The only thing I can do is to keep on working, even if remotely. I’m thinking of what I can do as an individual in this difficult situation.”

I heard this is a comment from an employee in his thirties who is working from home for a major company. Since his company instructed employees to work from home in late February, he has relied on smartphone chats and online video conferencing to get his work done, which was new for his office.

He says he also helps out his elder superiors, who are not as skilful with online tools: “I have tried to convince my boss to shift to online tools for months, but, cynically, Covid-19 forced them to make use of such technology.”

In a survey conducted by Nihon Keizai Shimbun on nearly 140 leading firms in Japan, about 50% of businesses say they have switched to teleworking partially or in principle.

Japan is a country where spending long hours in the office, going to drinks with clients late at night and working overtime have, for decades, been seen as signs of success. This workaholic culture is beginning to change because of the virus. Companies are starting to realize that they can actually do remote work. Moves by leading companies such as Panasonic and Unicharm to introduce remote working hit the headlines every day.

Working from home as an opportunity

For some people, the coronavirus crisis has provided them with an opportunity to rethink their relationships with family members.

Ms. Mayumi Funaki runs Shipood, a firm that offers public relations services for companies, with her husband: “I was doing 60% of the domestic work and he was doing 40%, but that’s completely reversed. It’s more like 40/60 now because my husband is spending much more time at home.”

The average time spent each day on household chores (for a weekday) by Japanese couples is 263 minutes for the wife compared with only 37 minutes for the husband, according to a survey conducted by the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research. Women have typically shouldered responsibilities for “both work and home”.

Ms. Eriko Miyamoto, a freelance editor/writer, devised a game that lets her eight-year-old son, now at home with his school closed, have fun while doing household work.

“Japanese men spend very little time doing household chores. I want my son to grow up into an adult equipped with excellent domestic capabilities,” she explains.

Some of the scenarios I have described so far are nothing but microscopic sketches; in macroeconomic terms, the pandemic will cause huge damage to Japanese society and the economy.

The number of fatalities is rising globally as we are gripped by the anxiety of not knowing when it will end. I feel, however, that the subtle actions initiated by each individual such as remote working and the revitalization of the online economy can serve as crucial points in envisioning the future course.

Historically speaking, epidemics have killed millions of people but also have social impacts leading to cultural revolutions. Isaac Newton sat under that tree when he was social distancing from his college during the Great Plague of London.

Can Japan prepare for the post-corona era? That is the important question each individual should think about during the long-lasting fight against Covid-19.

Source: weforum.org