Two Years of Perseverance and Beyond: an exploratory reflection on the Covid days in Japan                                                                                                                                                          Seiji Suzuki, Ph.D.                                                                                            Centre for Integrated Research and Education of                                                                                               Natural Hazards, Shizuoka University, JapanAbstract        This study is an attempt to reflect the Covid days in Japan. It began in early 2020 and continues even after the official announcement of its end on May 5, 2023. The trend of the infection in Japan is characteristic in that the number of the infected cases showed a huge rise in 2022, when the majority of the people were vaccinated at least twice. The reason for this is yet known, however, but attitudes towards the disease and the Coronavirus changed as the infected people increased in number. Some people have adopted the idea of the government-recommended ‘New Lifestyle’ for their convenience in their daily life. This seems to have led to a new normal in the conventional customs.Key words: Covid-19, pandemic, New Lifestyle, the idea of AVOID 3Cs, a new normal1. Introduction         On May 5, 2023, the WHO officially announced the end of the Covid-19 pandemic. Covid-19 is no longer taken as a Global Health Emergency of International Concern. People tend to perceive that things have been back to how they were before the pandemic and they seem to behave as if they had not experienced the abyss of the grief brought by the disease. But it is undeniably true that we have seen and heard so many tragedies related to Covid-19, around us and around the world. People were mourning the loss of their loved ones and the new situation had us on lockdown, depriving us of our freedom of discretion. Children, who had been made to stay at home, said that they wanted to see their friends but they had tried patiently to overcome their difficulties [i.e. Anonymous 2020]. Philosophers, social critiques, academics and the like appealed the need of solidarity among us at the time of the difficulties in front of us [i.e. Giordano 2020, Žižek 2020, 2021]. Now we have lived through the days of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the memories of those days seem to have gone somewhere. But a pandemic is a disaster and it surely stamps some kind of traces on us. That is why it is worth reflecting our experiences of the Covid days.        This study attempts an exploratory reflection from an anthropological perspective on the influences of the covid experiences of the Japanese from among countless issues arising during this particular period. For this end, this paper will focus on the characteristics of the changes of the number of the infected cases, and then, the dynamics of attitudes towards the Covid-19 among the Japanese will be considered. After this, consideration will be given to the influence of the ‘New Lifestyle’ the government had recommended the people to adapt in order to cope with the pandemic.        A small-scale questionnaire survey was conducted among 31 people, all of whom gave their consent in a written form to participate as respondents in the study and gave permissions for the author to use their responses as data for discussions in some parts of this study. Of them, 10 people had participated in the author’s study of 2022, which was about their practices of the ‘New Lifestyle’ recommended by the public authority as a means of preventing infection [Suzuki 2022].        The following starts with an overview of the pandemic days in Japan, focusing on changes in the number of infected persons during this time. Then it is going to look at the changes of the attitudes towards the disease and the influences of the ‘New Lifestyle’ as a means for preventing infection. Please note that the terms Covid-19 pandemic days, Covid days or Pandemic days are all used to refer to the same period, i.e. from January 2020, to January 2024 (when the work on this paper was in process). This is because the influence of the Covid-19 still continues even after the WHO’s official announcement of the end of the Covid-19 pandemic on May 5, 2023.2. Trend of the number of infected cases        Soon after the outbreak of Covid-19, the Japanese government categorised its legal status as a Class 2 disease under the Infectious Disease Control Law [MHLW]. It meant that Covid-19 was a serious and catastrophic infection, equivalent to SARS, bird flu (H5N1/N7N9) and diphtheria and the number of infected cases was counted daily until the WHO’s officially announced the end of Covid pandemic on May 5, 2023. After that, the legal status of Covid-19 was downgraded to Class 5, the same class as seasonal influenza for example. The system of counting infected cases was also changed to the Gathering Medical Information System (G-MIS). In this system, about 38,000 officially chosen medical institutions across the country report the number of infected persons they treated regularly, not necessarily on the daily basis. Figure 1 shows this difference.        It is quite obvious that there is a clear trend of the number of infected cases during the whole period from January 2020 to January 2024. During this time, slightly over 37 million people were infected, including those infected multiple times. Of them, the infected cases between January 2020 to December 2021 count little more than 1.7million cases, while the remaining cases, that is, about 35 million cases, representing slightly less than 95 percent of the total number of infections, occurred in 2022 and after.        The death toll also shows a similar trend. According to the official statistics by MHLW, there have been 74,096 deaths recorded from May, 2020 to May 9, 2023, the following day after the end of the Covid pandemic. Of them the first two years saw 17,781 deceased persons, and the rest, that is, 56,315 people died between January, 2022 and May 9, 2023.        What could be of interest to us is firstly that such an explosive increase happened when the full vaccination was almost over and third jab of the Covid-19 vaccination was being administered in Japan. Secondly Japan’s trend of infections in 2022 was not consistent with that of the world. According to WHO, there was a rapid increase in the first few months of 2022 but an overall world trend was somehow downward in the second half of the year [WHO]. The trend in Japan was not completely the other way round, but surely very different from it.        When the new disease caused by the new Coronavirus, later dubbed as Covid-19 was about to break out in early 2020, the Japanese government abruptly called for the temporary closure of all schools from elementary to secondary levels nationwide from March 1 to 20. This decision was made for the purpose of stopping the spread of the new Coronavirus by reducing opportunities for physical contacts between people in the initial stage of contagion.        The major theme parks such as the Tokyo Disney Land, Universal Studio Japan and Tokyo Ueno Zoo decided to temporarily close their facilities to comply with the government request. Similarly, local governments across the country started placing ‘Do Not Use’ warnings to their playground equipment like monkey bars, seesaws, swings and the like. Entering into playgrounds themselves was banned. And it was officially announced that Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games would be postponed by one year to 2021.        Just before the temporary school closure came to end and the new academic year was to start in April, the government declared a state of emergency under the Act on Special Measures for Pandemic Influenza and New Infectious Diseases Preparedness and Response (Act No. 31 of 2012) (Ministry of Justice). This law was enacted to ’strengthen measures against novel coronavirus infectious diseases’ (Ministry of Justice).        Although this particular act entitles the government to develop and implement new measures to deal with pandemic influenza, the law does not give the national or local governments any legally binding powers. It only gives the government authorities, central and local, the right to issue a request or requests so that the people would be expected to follow the official guidelines. They do not have legally binding powers to impose sanctions or penalties on the person(s) or bodies or institutions who do not comply with the request or requests. Nor could they place a measure like lockdown as other countries did. Second, the act for the State of Emergency can be applied either nationwide or to each of prefectural/ municipal areas.        In order to prevent the spread of infection, the government proposed the guidelines, as the official requests, for shorter operation hours from 5am to 8pm, and the avoidance of people gathering for ‘unnecessary’ social occasions after 8pm. Drinking out in a group of people for a social occasion was regarded as one of the unnecessary, unurgent and offensive acts. Such requests were kept maintained until the end of 2021. According to the research on restaurant industry [Inshokuten Research 2021], approximately 90 percent of the restaurants surveyed complied with the government’s request.