Individual Rights vs. Common Good?
A Case Study on Japanese Self-Restraint (jishuku) and COVID-19
Keywords:COVID-19, Japan, self-restraint, communitarianism, disaster culture
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, we have been facing one of the most severe challenges of our modern era. As the world experiences ever-greater globalization, a process of assimilation has accelerated in numerous spheres such as cultural, educational, economic, etc., but it is notable that the measures taken by countries to combat the impact of COVID-19 vary significantly. A considerable number of countries have implemented lockdown strategies backed by new laws, whereas some others have been relying on the virtues of good citizenship in order to not depend on their legal systems. Within Asia there are also contrasting approaches; for instance, China and Korea responded with a quick and effective tracking method, while Japan depended on a self-restraint strategy.
The Japanese and Swedish approaches to COVID-19 are unique and ambiguous, because they are based on voluntary self-restraint. There is no legal or political mechanism to control people’s behaviours. Still, in rough terms these methods seem to have been working, at least until now. In order to understand the puzzling practice of self-restraint, this research explores the origin and cultural background of self-restraint in Japan descriptively and evaluates its positive and negative consequences. Rather than utilizing the philosophy of communitarianism as the theoretical base, it examines the deep relationship between Japan and the surrounding environment, and the use of self-restraint in various events, including those related to COVID-19. Moreover, this study adds to the debate on seeking the right balance between the communitarian common good that is especially emphasized in the East, and an individual’s rights and freedom that are highlighted in the West.
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