The ‘Galapagos syndrome’

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The ‘Galapagos syndrome’

Passengers at Daito-gu subway station in Tokyo in October. [YONHAP]

Passengers at Daito-gu subway station in Tokyo in October. [YONHAP]

LEE YOUNG-HEE
The author is a Tokyo correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

Last Tuesday night, when I got into a taxi in the busy district of Shinbashi, Tokyo, the driver cautiously asked “How long will this atmosphere last?” Now that the number of Covid-19 cases has decreased to 20 to 30 a day in Tokyo, traffic congestion is serious even at night.

Probably not realizing that the quiet passenger was a foreigner, he added, “I am worried that the entry ban on foreigners will be relaxed.” He was concerned about a surge in Covid-19 cases after the government announced it will allow foreign students, job seekers and business travelers back into the country.

However, if he had read the statement carefully, he would have thought differently. Students and technical trainees are allowed to enter, but it’s not easy. They have to submit various documentation for government review. The quarantine period for vaccinated short-term business travelers in Japan was cut to 3 days from 10 days, but they still have to send six documents to related agencies for approval.

After the three days of quarantine, foreigners cannot use public transportation without assigned seats from the fourth day to the tenth and have to work in isolated spaces at work. And those who dine with them have to monitor their health for ten days. It sounds like, “Do you really want to go through this to get in? Change your mind, if possible.”

Since January, Japan has been imposing a lockdown policy of banning all foreigners’ new entry, a rare measure internationally. The policy was condemned as a human rights violation and isolationist as students who were already admitted to colleges and people who got jobs in Japan were not allowed to enter.

Japan hesitantly opened the door slightly but created another wall with cumbersome procedures.

“Galapagos syndrome” is used to refer to the isolated nature of the Japanese economy and culture. Just like the Galapagos Islands isolated from the rest of the world and went through its own evolution and created an independent ecosystem, Japan is so inward that it fell behind global trends.

Covid-19 seems to have a Galapagos effect on Japanese people’s mindset. Unless Japan’s goal is to totally isolate itself, it needs to listen to the Nikkei’s advice that the policy is “far from international standards.”



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