Advert Offers Scathing Rebuke of Japanese Government’s COVID Response
Japan has received considerable praise from foreign media for maintaining a comparatively low coronavirus infection rate despite low testing, poor tracking, and a lax policy on lockdowns. The reasons are complex and open to debate, as a lack of data puts in-depth analysis and sweeping conclusions beyond reach. Japanese health policy experts will have their work cut out for years to come.
In the meantime, there seems to be growing discontent in the way the public is perceiving the government’s response to the pandemic. Before, concerns had been raised over a variety of issues — from inaccessible PCR tests to the discriminatory treatment of foreign residents — but public criticism remained relatively subdued as long as infections remained under control. Now, with vaccination widely available in most of the world’s wealthiest nations, Japanese citizens are feeling increasingly left behind.
An overt sign of swelling public frustration was this full spread advertisement published on May 11th in one of Japan’s most prominent newspapers, the Nikkei Shimbun. It was run by Tokyo-based publishing company Takarajimasha.
The text of the advertisement roughly translates as follows:
We don’t have the vaccine. We don’t have medication. Are we supposed to fight [the coronavirus] using bamboo swords? If things keep on like this, the government will kill us.
It continues in small font.
We’re being deceived. What in the world happened this past year? How much longer are we expected to show self-restraint? This patience contest has to end. Stop coming up with one excuse after another. You’re forcing us to take unreasonable measures, but not a single thing has changed. Now more than ever, we’re entitled to raise our voices in anger.
Such a harsh public indictment of the government’s efforts is an exceedingly rare sight in Japan. Culturally, harmony and decorum are largely accepted as being essential to the political process. Most companies shy away from taking any strong political stands, let alone ones that are inflammatory in tone. In addition, the use of sarcasm is often either misunderstood or seen as distasteful in Japan, which is part of why political comedy and satire are close to nonexistent in Japanese mainstream entertainment.
The advertisement received a tremendous reception, leading to widespread news coverage and activity over social media; Twitter in particular, which is widely used in Japan. It seems to have struck a chord with how large swaths of the population are feeling about the pandemic response, namely that the limited infection rate was achieved thanks to the self-discipline and sacrifice of individuals and businesses, despite a lack of large-scale effective public health programs.
The reactions were far from universally positive. Many commentators decried the ad’s belligerence. Others were perplexed as to why a publishing company would spend so much on a piece that is unlikely to have a deep impact from a marketing or PR perspective.
Nevertheless, it’s hard to argue that the advertisement shed a shimmering spotlight on the government’s inability to inspire confidence and show leadership in dealing with the pandemic. Whether or not that will spur the government to action is yet to be seen. One can only hope that to make up for past blunders, they will invest heavily in a large-scale, effective vaccine rollout. As of now though, the vaccine is looking to be yet another botched job.
For more information, check out this piece on how Japan has handled its coronavirus response so far.