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Japan shrugs at name-and-shame policy amid Covid fatigue and changing norms

Japan shrugs at name-and-shame policy amid Covid fatigue and changing norms

Social pressure and group mores have become less powerful as people become tired of staying home

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The Japanese government has named three people this week who broke quarantine rules after returning from overseas in an attempt to shame others into complying with anti-virus measures.

The authorities are hoping to tap into traits, such as the sense of collective and the importance of not breaking social norms, that Japan is known for.However, fatigue from prolonged states of emergency and ire at quarantine exceptions made for Olympic athletes may mean the “name and shame” policy has limited effect, or will even backfire.The names – but no other details – of the three rule-breakers who are reported to have avoided contact with authorities during their 14-day mandatory quarantine were announced on Monday. Some social media users attempted to identify the trio but there was little public outcry.

“If the publicising of people’s names makes them ashamed, then that will work on Japanese people,” said Mafumi Usui, a professor of social psychology at Niigata Seiryo University. “But it depends not on the rules or laws, but how people in society react. If the rules are seen as proper and correct, and people break them, they will feel dishonour and shame.“If people feel embarrassed, then that will stop others breaking the rules. It comes down to the atmosphere or mood in society at the time.” With Tokyo under its fourth state of emergency and quasi-emergency measures being expanded to eight more prefectures from Saturday, sections of the public are growing weary of the restrictions, even as Japan logs record case numbers. New infections exceeded 15,000 for the first time on Thursday, and eight deaths due to coronavirus were reported.Added to this is anger in some quarters at the fact that overseas Olympic teams were not required to quarantine on arrival in Japan. There have also been multiple reports of Olympic officials and members of the media, who did have to self-isolate, breaking the rules.

Early in the pandemic, there were so many incidents of people harassing the very few who were not wearing masks and reporting businesses they believed were not acting responsibly to authorities that these “virus vigilantes” were nicknamed jishuku-keisatsu (self-restraint police). But as time has passed and restrictions have been extended, righteous indignation at those not strictly following the rules appears to have abated. And while Japan remains a relatively rule-bound and group-oriented society, thinking is shifting.

Ayako Fujino, a Tokyo-based translator who has lived overseas, said people were “tired of staying at home” and that group norms in Japan were a less powerful force.“Respect for privacy and individualism is more important in most western countries than in Japan, but attitudes in Japan have changed and there is more focus on that than before,” said Fujino, who believes that tendency is particularly strong among the younger generation.“Young people in particular might be more inclined to think someone’s privacy has been violated by being named by the government.”And while social pressure and group mores are still significant factors in regulating behaviour in small towns and rural areas, looser community ties in the big cities mean the efficacy of the government’s attempts to shame rule-breakers will be limited there.“Even if my neighbour’s name was published in the media, I wouldn’t know who they were,” Fujino said.


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