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June 30, 2020

Five ways Japanese culture takes the stress out of living in the COVID-19 era

There are literally hundreds, but five will do for now.

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  • Words: Josh Fanning

In 2020 there’s a new kind of regret creeping onto the radar as our hopes for ever leaving this island in Oceania begin to fade. The bleeps on that radar are coming in hot, from the north, and they’re getting stronger and stronger the longer we’re not allowed to fly.

We’ve seen it first hand at CityMag – the real shame and sadness someone feels when asked if they’ve been to Japan and their answer is no.


This article was produced in collaboration with Vape Store.

Legitimately people have stamped their foot when we’ve asked that question.

‘No! Damn it. I want to,’ they say.

Japan is a brilliant country with an incredibly diverse geography and plenty of natural wonder, but during this pandemic, and while watching our nation’s response, it’s actually been the culture of Japan we’ve come to understand as their truly greatest example to the world.

Stress has been the true, universal viral symptom caused by COVID-19 as everyone on the planet freaks out about how to deal, and what to do during this enforced era of self-isolation and social distancing.

Australians led the world in stressing about toilet paper; we stressed about public transport, with many employees still banned from coming to work if they ride the bus, train or trams into the city.

COVID-19 has unleashed an epidemic of stress upon our broad brown land as we struggle with all the ways we’ve lived our heretofore ‘carefree’ life.

And while Japan has suffered at the hands of this indiscriminate virus, we know that its population would have felt far less disruption than ours. Here’s why.


Top Five traits to import from Japan for a less stressful pandemic in the future


  1. Toilets

The TOTO toilet system invented in 1917 means Japan was never going to feel like it had to hoard toilet paper. While Australians temporarily lost their minds, buying 90 rolls of toilet paper at a time, the Japanese would have felt utterly calm in the knowledge their toilets have heated seats and laser-focused and in-built washlet systems that make paper a mere formality at the end of a very pleasant experience.


  1. Hygiene

COVID-19 isn’t Japan’s first rodeo. Having ridden through the smallpox epidemic of 735AD and events like Avian and Swine Flu to a lesser extent, the Japanese – with their zero unemployment social policy – means public surfaces like the rubber handrails on busy escalators are disinfected several times a day by staff. Every stainless steel surface in the country doubles as a sparkling mirror to not only attest to the cleanliness of your surrounds but also adjust your hair / makeup in.


  1. Footpath etiquette

With the nation under house-arrest here in Australia, we saw a huge spike in low key exercise activities such as walking. However, when out walking in Adelaide, we couldn’t help but notice the disarray our footpaths are in as people take up multiple lanes, left, right and centre and had trouble keeping the required 1.5 metres apart while passing. In Japan, they know which side to walk on and have bucket-loads of etiquette to get them through any squeezy situations. Australia needs a footpath side to walk on like we do our roads.


  1. Small bars and smoking inside

Now, smoking inside is utterly taboo and illegal indoors in Australia and this is not a bad thing. But with the advent of new vape technology and E-cigarettes as an alternative to standard cigarettes – we do wonder if there’s scope for Australian bars to bring back that glorious, movie-like aesthetic of smoke-filled bars from the 80s? We certainly enjoyed the retro warmth of those small bars we visited in Tokyo with well-worn seats, full of suits all smoking and talking and letting out the stress of life. Japan does small bars so well, with food and conversation manageable in a bar that can only hold 10 or 12 at a time, the stress of infection reduces exponentially.


  1. No-touch greetings

One of the biggest things we’ve struggled with here in Australia is the urge we have to extend our hands when meeting one-another. COVID has caused a lot of stress here in Australia as we work through some lame alternatives such as the elbow touch, the air-shake from 1.5 metres away, the wave, and the worst of all – toe tap. In Japan, everyone bows – from a nod of the head through to perpendicular position. And while bowing might feel subservient, when you’re both doing it and not worrying about what sort of touching experience is about to unfold it’s also a hell of a lot easier to remember the other person’s name!

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