January 29, 2020 began like any other day. Before it ended it had changed Japan irretrievably. On that date the nation recorded its first infection of the virus soon to be known as COVID 19.
Seven months into the world’s worst pandemic in over a century, Shukan Post (Aug 14-21) looks back. The early days were bewildering, overpowering. What was happening? No one knew. Something we weren’t ready for. That was clear.
On Jan 29, a bus driver in Nara tested positive. He’d been driving tourists from Wuhan, China, around the scenic and historic city. Wuhan was ground zero – where it all started.
Who is that driver? Where is he, what is he doing, how is he faring?
We don’t know.
Mystery surrounds him. Here’s what Shukan Post was able to find out. No sooner had word got out than Nara bus companies were deluged by queries. Some companies, in self-defense, posted notices on their home pages: It’s not us! It turned out that the driver’s company was based not in Nara but in Osaka.
Its office phones go unanswered. Its premises are deserted. In its parking lot are 10 idled buses. Neighbors say there were 15-odd employees. They, too, presumably, have been idled. Will the company ever get back to business? We’ll just have to wait and see.
Shukan Post follows up other incidents in the early history of the pandemic. One involved three pachinko parlors in Kobe that defied instructions from Hyogo Prefecture Gov Toshizo Ido to shut down.
In doing so they were not breaking the law, for the order was non-binding. All the prefecture could do in response was name-and-shame – which it promptly did.
This was in April. People were increasingly housebound, increasingly restless, increasingly in need of some place to go as more and more venues shut down. If the defiant pachinko operators had wanted to advertise, they couldn’t have devised a better campaign than the official measure whose intention had been to rally public opinion against them. Instead, people flocked to the parlors. Business soared.
It was too good to last. The industry has its good name to consider, and an umbrella organization of pachinko owners opened talks to expel the refractory parlors. A parlor can theoretically go it alone, Shukan Post explains, but it’s hard. Operation requires a permit. There are local authorities and police to deal with. There are narrow winding paths to negotiate, and all in all, it’s safer to be in the group than not. Talks as Shukan Post went to press were ongoing.
In late April, a woman in her 20s traveled from Tokyo, where she lives and works, to her native village in Yamanashi Prefecture, where her parents live. Days later a colleague of hers tested positive for the virus. On hearing the news, the woman presented herself at a village hospital to be tested. Wait at home for the results, she was told.
This she apparently did not do. She visited a chiropractor and went golfing. Two days later she learned that she, too, was positive.
She went back to Tokyo by bus.
In this coronavirus age there are few secrets. Word got out, and spread. “Corona woman,” she was dubbed. She was soundly bashed online. Her family in Yamanashi received harassing phone calls. The media followed in hot pursuit. Desperate, the family consulted the police.
“We felt we couldn’t handle it alone,” the woman’s father tells Shukan Post. “It’s painful even to recall it.”
That suggests a measure of calm restored. How’s his daughter doing? the magazine asks.
“She’s healthy,” says her father. More than that he declines to reveal. “The police have advised me not to.”© Japan Today