Across the world, people are adjusting to the 'new COVID-19 normal’. The economic and social landscape in Japan, as elsewhere, looks very different now. We look at how Japan is facing the challenges of life during a pandemic through the stories of people on the ground.
2020 has been an unusual year for the world due to the COVID-19 crisis. For the 2 800 000 foreigners living in Japan, dealing with the changes linked to the pandemic has been an additional challenge.
In this episode of Spotlight, we look at the efforts made by Japan to make visitors and residents from abroad feel safe and supported during this pandemic - both from a medical perspective and in their daily lives. We also talk to some of those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Frederic Madelaine is a patisserie chef and CEO of the bakery 'Le Pommier'. He has lived in Japan for the past 20 years. He fell very ill with the virus back in Spring 2020.
Frederic Madelaine, a patisserie chef and CEO of the bakery 'Le Pommier', has lived in Japan for the past 20 years. He fell very ill with the virus back in Spring 2020.
He was sent to a military hospital where he was put into a negative pressure room, isolated from the rest of the world.
Despite the serious nature of his situation, Madelaine says he was well taken care of.
"There was no discrimination whatsoever. We were all equal," he adds.
Fortunately, Frederic is now back to full health. He is happy to be back at work with his employees and reunited with his loyal customers.
In Japan, when a patient is diagnosed with COVID-19 and requires hospitalisation, they must first find a clinic or a hospital. One Japanese organisation, called the AMDA International Medical Information Centre, assists foreigners in this process.
The director of the centre, Kobayashi Yoneyuki, explains how that came about:
"When this coronavirus started (...) we received quite a lot of phone calls from foreigners.
"The president of the Japanese Medical Association decided to give us three million yen and we used this amount to hire interpreters, so we could provide advice to the foreigners who called us."
Japan’s healthcare system is highly rated and the country famously boasts one of the world’s highest life expectancies. The number of COVID-19 deaths and infections is currently much lower in Japan than in many other developed economies.
Another medical facility helping both nationals and foreign nationals is the Tokyo Medical and Dental University Hospital. One of its key measures was to create a dedicated and separate section for the treatment of COVID-19 patients.
Its director, Okada Takuya, says it helps foreign nationals, in particular, with its staff, many of whom speak fluent English. But for non-Japanese patients who don't speak English, they also have a technological solution; tablets with translation systems.
But it's not just about receiving medical care. The consequences of any disease can leave patients feeling isolated and lonely. The hospital also has measures in place to help with their psychological well-being.
Beyond health concerns, 2020 has been a difficult year for the world’s economy. Many countries have seen a rise in unemployment linked to the pandemic.
Gowell Town in Tokyo is a space run by a staffing agency that matches foreign jobseekers with Japanese employers. Thanks to them, Levi Brunner, an American citizen, found a job working for a Japanese municipality. The agency helped him fill out paperwork and understand the visa process. His new-found job is with the Tourism Association of Yugawara.
2020 was also an unusual year for foreign students as classes moved online and social restrictions were put in place. But Japanese universities were quick to step in and offer financial and moral support as Mariam Sessi, a student in International Relations and Political Science, describes:
“The school kept checking on us. Every once in a while it sent us a Google form to fill in about how we’re feeling, how we’d been doing with classes if there’s anything they can help with.”
Denis Iliushenkov is a student at the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies. He says he was still receiving the Japanese government scholarship when he applied for further support offered to international and national students and he got it.
Japan may not have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic to the same extent as other nations, but it is doing its best to provide the best assistance to foreign nationals in our strange times.