Kyodo News Agency, Japan’s news organisation, sent out on 5 June a piece with a title saying, “Japan’s low virus mortality rate reflects social manners: deputy PM.” In conjunction with COVID19, the Deputy Prime Minister, Taro Aso, was quoted as saying in a parliamentary session something like;
“I have received phone calls (from overseas) asking ‘Do you have any drug that only you guys have?’ My answer is the level of social manners is different, and then they fall silent.”
I was puzzled. What was he talking about? What was the connection between the coronavirus mortality rate and what Mr Aso-called “social manners”?
Japan’s mortality rate certainly seemed to be quite low: 927 people had died as at Sunday 14 and the deaths per 100,000 population was 0.73. The figure looks certainly impressive comparing to those of, say, UK where 41,747 people died with 62.79 as “deaths/100k pop” and the US where the figures were 115,436 and 35.28 respectively.
I still did not see why the deputy PM had to refer to the level of “social manners” in order to talk about the reason for the low mortaliity rate. “Social manner” means the way you behave in society, doesn’t it? For example, you should not do things to make a big noise late at night: it will make nuisance to the neighbours. A socially bad manner. Did Mr Aso mean the coronavirus had killed more Americans and the British because they were socially bad mannered!? No, he couldn’t have meant it. He is not that stupid.
I then checked what Japanese language newspapers said about his remarks on the “social manners” and found out that he actually used the Japanese wording “mindo” for what the Kyodo News referred to as “social manners”. The word “mindo” (pronunciate “meendoh”) literally means “people’s level” but actually means something like “the level of social decency” or “cultural standard”.
Still, what on the earth did the deputy PM mean when he said to his foreign counterparts that Japanese rate of COVID19 deaths was due to the higher level of “social decency”?
According to the Kyodo News, the deputy PM went further to say;
The United States imposed fines on people who broke lockdown rules, and France did so too. But we didn’t have to do such a thing, and we made it only by “requesting” that people suspend nonessential businesses and stay at home. We should be very proud of this.
So, he is “proud” of his own people who are willing to accept what their government tells them to accept. No legal enforcement is necessary. And do you know something? Taro Aso is not just a deputy PM but also the Finance Minister in the current Shinzo Abe’s cabinet.
Should I be kind enough to tell this man why his foreign counterparts fell silent without calling him back after he told them how proud he was about the Japanese people with higher “social manners” than those in foreign countries? Should I not explain that it was because they decided it a waste of their time to speak to Taro?
Japanese people silently followed what the government told him to do but it was not because they trusted the government but simply because they did not want to be seen disobedient. They do not wish to make fuss because they did not want to be “isolated” in this impossibly assimilated island. Should I bother to tell him that!? No. It is his problem to be seen as idiot, not mine. The only problem to me is that my foreign friends might see me as one of the people with lower level of “mindo” (level of decency) to have a man with such a low level of “mindo” in a high place like government.