Spa! (April 7) proclaims yet “another corona shock.” There have been many of them and there are likely to be many more before it’s over. This one is a “moral” shock, and it reflects badly on the elderly. Their hoarding, the magazine says, is scandalous and shameless.
In times gone by the elderly were society’s moral bedrock, keeping it steady when hard times rocked the foundations. Now – consider the testimony the magazine lines up against them.
“They line up in droves outside the neighborhood supermarket from 7 a.m., two hours before it opens,” fumes a (nameless) Tokyo company employee in his 40s. They’re free to do that. Young and middle-aged people, with work and domestic responsibilities to juggle – the more frantically now, with the kids home from school – are condemned to arrive late and settle for what’s left. Not much is. “By the time my wife gets there around 10, the frozen foods and noodles are sold out” – to say nothing of toilet paper.
The hoarding tendency got particularly intense after Tokyo Gov Yuriko Koike, in a March 25 press conference, hinted at the possibility of a lockdown. There’s no telling what hardship that would entail. Best be prepared. Food, of course, is the main concern. If it runs out, you go hungry. If you hoard, you won’t. Others will, but that’s their problem. Such, in Spa!’s view, seems to be the prevailing attitude.
Food panic at least is comprehensible. Toilet paper? It’s easily made light of, when the supply is not threatened. When it is, it suddenly becomes elemental. Spa! cites the following episode, courtesy of a 34-year-old Tokyo resident with Shinagawa license plates on his car.
What do license plates have to do with it? Simple. In the neighborhood, toilet paper was sold out. Discovering online that stores in nearby Koto Ward were well stocked, he and the family drove out there.
It was early morning. The store was not yet open. There was a lineup. Into the parking lot as he drove in marched five elderly men. They were truculent. “We can’t have people coming here from outside the ward,” they said. “Supplies are limited as it is.”
The family lined up anyway, but by the time they got into the store there was nothing left. It soon became clear why. The five men had purchased armfuls of toilet paper and were passing it out to friends in line, some of them well behind the Shinagawa family.
Psychiatrist Hideki Wada suggests an explanation. “Most of the COVID-19 fatalities are among the elderly,” he tells the magazine “The elderly are particularly vulnerable, so if they’re particularly uneasy, it’s understandable. Also, there are many elderly who are not at home on the internet” – a disability in the pursuit of up-to-date information, and also, says Wada, “TV is dependent on ratings, and fear keeps them up.” Talk shows are thus motivated to stoke it, and stoke it they do, he says (not that online posting is immune to alarmism).
“The government should be making more effort to reach the elderly with reliable information, instead of indiscriminately calling on schools to close and events to be canceled,” says Wada.
The school closings have had many consequences. Kids kept home from school, parents kept home from work, stress levels up, economic activity down. Such things were foreseeable. Less so was the clash it bred between two improbable antagonists: children and the elderly. A Tokyo father in his 30s tells Spa! of sending his kids to his parents in rural Shikoku. That way he and his wife could keep working, and the kids would probably be happier too.
The grandparents were willing enough, but after a week they called: “The neighbors are complaining. They say the children are noisy, we can’t let them play outside; I’m afraid this isn’t working.”
Once the outdoors were swarming with children, the air rang with their shouts, laughter, tears. No longer. Now, with their numbers dwindling and the elderly growing older and more intolerant, it’s considered a nuisance.
Spa!’s melancholy conclusion: “In the end, the worst effect of the pandemic may be social breakdown.”© Japan Today