Japan's 'virus vigilantes' bully those who don't conform to health guidelines

Japan's 'virus vigilantes' bully those who don't conform to health guidelines
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Self-appointed “virus vigilantes” have emerged in Japan to bully violators of the country’s strict social distancing policies.

Nikkei Asian Reviews reports that numerous self-appointed enforcers have emerged following the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, whose behavior is observed as a symptom of the country’s emphasis on social conformity.

The paper reports that the vigilantes known as jishuku keisatsu, or “self-restraint police” in Japanese, highlights the country’s “social propensity for conformism that is adding to an existing atmosphere of psychological suffocation expressed as being literally ‘hard to breathe’ [in Japanese].”

While Japan has some of the lowest coronavirus infection rates worldwide, the attitude of these self-appointed social police contributes to “an increasing feeling of collective surveillance” in Japan that has led to a rise in stress and anxiety for many, and may possibly be contributing to the country’s spiking suicide rates.

“[T]he total number of suicides for October was 2,153, an increase of more than 300 from the previous month and the highest monthly tally since May 2015,” Nikkei reported. “Of October’s cases, 851 were women, a rise of 82.6 percent over the same month in 2019. The number of suicides by men rose 21.3 percent.”

The rise is the fourth consecutive month that Japan recorded an increase in suicides, which remains among one of the highest in the world.

Nikkei reported on Tuesday that Hiroaki Murata, the owner of Tokyo bar, said he received written warnings from a virus vigilante in April at the height of the outbreak that left him and his wife afraid for their safety.

“For safety, refrain from opening live music clubs until the state of emergency ends,” read a typed note on his store sign. “If I find you opening again, I’ll call the police.” The letter was signed “a neighbor.”

Murata told the paper that on the day he received the warning, he and his wife livestreamed a performance conducted “in accordance with Tokyo Metropolitan Government guidelines.” The only people present during the performance were him, his wife, and the singer.

In addition to his experience, Murata told Nikkei that he “heard from musician friends about strangers attacking them on the street for carrying guitars.”

“During the war, people were harshly accused of just wearing nice clothes or singing songs,” he said, referencing the Second World War. “What happened to me was just like that. Japanese people haven’t changed much.”

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