Individual Rights vs. Common Good?

A Case Study on Japanese Self-Restraint (jishuku) and COVID-19




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.


Download data is not yet available.


Abe, Marié. 2016. “Sounding Against Nuclear Power in Post-3.11 Japan: Resonances of Silence and Chindon-ya.” Ethnomusicology 60 (2): 233–64.

Amat, Edelmira. 2007. “El Shintoísmo y su Aspecto Religioso (Shintoism and Its Religious Aspects).” In Aproximación al Shintoísmo (Approaching to Shintoism), edited by Alfonso J. Falero, 73–89. Salamanca: Amurú Ediciones.

Barton, Allen H. 1969. Communities in Disaster: A Sociological Analysis of Collective Stress Situations. Garden City, New York: Anchor Books edition, Doubleday & Company.

Bell, Daniel. 1993. Communitarianism and Its Critics. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

———. 2006. Beyond Liberal Democracy: Political Thinking for an East Asian Context. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Beng Haut, Chau. 1999. “‘Asian-values’ Discourse and the Resurrection of the Social.” East Asia Cultures Critique 7 (2): 573–92.

———. 2004. “Communitarian Politics in Asia.” In Communitarian Politics in Asia, edited by Chua Beng Huat, 1–25. New York: Routledge Curzon.

Blackbox. 2020. “A Global Public Opinion Survey across 23 Countries (Summary Report).” Blackbox, May 2020. Accessed February 16, 2021.

Bohoslavsky, Juan Pablo. 2020. “COVID-19 Economy vs. Human Rights: A Misleading Dichotomy.” Health and Human Rights Journal 22 (1): 383–86. Accessed February 15, 2021.

Button, Gregory. 2010. Disaster Culture: Knowledge and Uncertainty in the Wake of Human and Environmental Catastrophe. Walnut Creek: Left Coast Press, Inc.

Calantas, Teresita. 2007. “El Hombre en el Contexto Shintoísta (A Man in Shintoist Context).” Translated by Roberto Vega. In Aproximación al Shintoísmo (Approaching to Shintoism), edited by Alfonso J. Falero, 91–95. Salamanca: Amurú Ediciones.

Chan, Joseph. 1997. “An Alternative View.” Journal of Democracy 8 (2): 35–48.

Chiba, Shin 千葉眞. 2000. Demokurashii デモクラシー(Democracy). Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten.

Dahl, Robert A. 1989. Democracy and Its Critics. New Heaven: Yale University Press.

De Bary, Wm. Theodore. 1998. Asian Values and Human Rights: A Confucian Communitarian Perspective. Cambridge, Mass and London: Harvard University Press.

Delanty, Gerard. 2003. Community. London: Routledge.

Dooley, Ben. 2020. “Japan’s Locked Borders Shake the Trust of Its Foreign Workers.” The New York Times, August 5, 2020. Accessed April 25, 2021.

Du, Lisa, and Grace Huang. 2020. “Did Japan Just Beat the Virus Without Lockdowns or Mass Testing?” Bloomberg, May 25, 2020. Accessed February 15, 2021.

Duus, Peter. 2012. “Dealing with Disaster.” In Natural Disaster and Nuclear Crisis in Japan: Response and Recovery after Japan’s 3/11, edited by Jeff Kingston, 175–87. Abringdon, Oxon, New York: Routledge.

Etzioni, Amitai. 2004a. “Introduction.” In The Communitarian Reader: Beyond the Essentials, edited by Amitai Etzioni, Andrew Volmert, and Elanit Rothschild, 1–12. Lanham, Boulder, New York, Tronto, Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield Publisher, Inc.

———. 2004b. “The Responsive Community Platform: Rights and Responsibilities.” In The Communitarian Reader: Beyond the Essentials, edited by Amitai Etzioni, Andrew Volmert, and Elanit Rothschild, 13–24. Lanham, Boulder, New York, Toronto, Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

Fox, Russell Arben. 1997. “Confucian and Communitarian Responses to Liberal Democracy.” The Review of Politics 59 (3): 561–692.

Fujita, Takashi. 1992. “Electronic Pageantry and Japan’s ‘Symbolic Emperor’.” The Journal of Asian Studies 51 (4): 824–50.

Fukuyama, Francis. 1995a. “The Primacy of Culture.” Journal of Democracy 6 (1): 7–14.

———. 1995b. “Confucianism and Democracy.” Journal of Democracy 6 (2): 20–33.

———. 1998. La confianza (Trust). Translated by Victor Alba. Barcelona: Ediciones B.

———. 2004. La Construcción del Estado: Hacia un Nuevo Orden Mundial en el Siglo XXI (1ª ed.) (State-Building: Governance and World Order in the 21st century). Translated by María Alonso. Barcelona: Ediciones B.

Giammaria, Valentina. 2020. “COVID-19 in Japan: A Nighttime Disease.” The Asian-Pacific Journal 18 (9): 1–9. Accessed February 16, 2021.

Gillespie, David F. 1988. “Barton’s Theory of Collective Stress is a Classic and Worth Testing.” International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disaster 6 (3): 345–61.

Hara, Yasushi 原泰史, Imagawa Tomomi 今川智美, Otsuka Hidemi 大塚英美, Okajima Yuko 岡嶋裕子, Kanki Naoto 神吉直人, Kudo Hideo 工藤秀雄, Koh Youngjae 高永才, Sasaki Masato 佐々木将人, Shinoya Go 塩谷剛, Takebe Rika 武部理花, et al. 2020. “Shingata koronauirusu kansenshō eno soshiki taiō ni kansuru kinkyū chōsa: dai ippō 新型コロナウィルス感染症への組織対応に関する緊急調査:第一報 (An Urgent Survey of Japanese Companies’ Organizational Responses to COVID-19: A First Report.” IIR Working Paper 20-10: 1–17. Accessed February 15, 2021.

Harootunian, Harry D. 2000. Overcome by Modernity: History, Culture and Community in Interwar Japan. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Hendry, Joy. 2003. Understanding Japanese Society. 3rd ed. London: Routledge Curzon.

———. 2014. “Learning that Emerges in Times of Trouble.” In When the Tsunami Come to Shore: Culture and Disaster in Japan, edited by Roy Starrs, 166–78. Leiden, Boston: Global Oriental.

Hewitt, Kenneth. 2012. “Culture, Hazard and Disaster.” In Handbook of Hazards and Disaster Risk Reduction, edited by Ben Wisner, JC Gaillard, and Ilan Kelman, 85–96. Abingdon, Oxon, New York: Routledge.

Higuchi, Yoichi. 1990. “The Constitution and the Emperor System: Is Revisionism Alive?” Law and Contemporary Problem 53 (1): 51–60.

Hiroi, Yu 廣井悠. 2020. “COVID-19 ni taisuru nihongata rokkudaun no gaishutsu yokusei kōka ni kansuru kenkyū COVID-19に対する日本型ロックダウンの外出抑制効果に関する研究 (A Study on the Effect of Japanese-Style Lockdown on Self-restraint Request for COVID-19).” Kōeki zaidanhōjin Nihon toshi keikaku gakkai toshi keikaku ronbun-shū 公益財団法人日本都市計画学会都市計画論文集 (Journal of the City Planning Institute of Japan) 55 (3): 902–09. Accessed February 15, 2021.

Huntington, Samuel P. 1993. “American Democracy in Relation to Asia.” In Democracy and Capitalism: Asian and American Perspectives, edited by Robert Bartley, Chan Heng Chee, Samuel P. Huntington, and Shijuro Ogata, 27–44. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

Ichihara, Maiko. 2020. “Corona-Tracking and Privacy: The Opposite Approaches of South Kora and Japan.” Asian Democracy Research Network, November 5, 2020. Accessed February 15, 2021.

Into, Kazuhiro. 2013. “Kantō daishinsai ji no chōsenjin gyakusatsu wa naze okotta ka: chosen dokuritsu sensō to nihon teikoku 関東大震災時の朝鮮人虐殺はなぜ起こったか:朝鮮独立戦争と日本帝国 (Why Did the Slaughter of Koreans by Japanese Arise in 1923?: The Independence-War between the Korean Nation and the Japan Empire).” Kyōiku kagaku seminarī 教育科学セミナリー (Educational Science Seminary) 44: 15–28. Accessed April 25, 2021.

Itagaki, Katsuhiko 板垣勝彦. 2020. “Shingata koronauirusu zakkan; jishuku yōsei, kyūgyō to hoshō, toshi fūsa 新型コロナウイルス雑感—自粛要請、休業と補償、都市封鎖—(Miscellaneous Thoughts on the New Coronavirus: Request on Self-Restraint, Business Shut Down and Compensation, Lockdown).” Departmental Bulletin Paper 29 (1): 185–204.

Kaneko, Nana. 2019. “Songs of the 3.11 Triple Disasters in Japan’s Tohoku Region.” Multicultures 46 (1): 106–27.

Katafuchi, Yuya, Kenichi Kurita, and Shunsuke Managi. 2020. “COVID-19 with Stigma: Theory and Evidence from Mobility Data.” Economics of Disasters and Climate Change: 1–25.

Kimura Ida, Aya, Reina Fukushima, Naoko Oyabo-Mathis, and James Mathis. 2015. “Jishuku, Altruism and Expatriate Emotion.” Contexts 14 (2): 28–33.

Klamberg, Mark. 2020. “Challenges to Rule of Law, Democracy and Human Rights after the Outbreak of COVID-19 from a Swedish Perspective.” Democracy for the Future, July 17, 2020. Accessed February 15, 2021.

Komai, Hiroshi 駒井洋. 2000. Nihonteki shakaichi no shi to saisei: syūdansyugi shinwa no kaitai 日本的社会知の死と再生—集団主義神話の解体 (The Death and Reproduction of Japanese Social Knowledge: Breaking Down the Legend of Groupism). Kyoto: Mineruva shobō.

Lewis, Nancy Davis, and Jonathan D. Mayer. 2020. “Challenges and Responses to COVID-19: Experience from Asia.” East-West Wire 1–2. Accessed February 15, 2021.

Lie, John. 2001. Multiethnic Japan. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

McCurry, Justin. 2020. “From Near Disaster to Success Story: How Japan Has Tackled Coronavirus.” The Guardian, May 22, 2020. Accessed February 15, 2021.

Merry, Sally Engle. 2003. “Human Rights Law and the Demonization of Culture (And Anthropology Along the Way).” Political and Legal Anthropology Review 26 (1): 55–76.

Miwa, Sachiko 三輪さち子. 2020. “‘Onegai’ to iu nano kyōseiryoku 「お願い」という名の強制力 (Compelling Power Called a ‘Favor’).” Asahi Digital, May 3, 2020. Accessed February 16, 2021.

Montero, Ascensión. 2007. “Vida Ética en el Shintoísmo (Ethic Life in Shintoism).” In Aproximación al Shintoísmo (Approaching to Shintoism), edited by Alfonso J. Falero, 97–106. Salamanca: Amurú Ediciones.

Morning Consult. 2021. “Global Leader Approval Rating Tracker.” Morning Consult Political Intelligence, February 11, 2021. Accessed February 16, 2021.

Munro, Martin. 2014. “Community in Post-Earthquake Writing from Haiti.” Paragraph 37 (2): 193–204.

Naikaku kanbō 内閣官房. 2020a. “Shingata korona uirusu kansenshō kinkyū jitai sengen 新型コロナウイルス感染症緊急事態宣言 (State of Emergency for New Coronavirus Infection).” Shingata korona uirusu kansenshō taisaku 新型コロナウイルス感染症対策 (Countermeasures for Coronavirus Infection), April 7, 2020. Accessed February 15, 2021.

Nakai, Natsumi 中井なつみ. 2021. “Hoikuen no tōen jishuku, kyōryoku shitai kedo shigoto to ryōritsu wa murikin 保育園の登園自粛、協力したいけど 仕事と両立は無理筋 (Self-Restraint of Day-care Centers, Wanting to Cooperate but Combine the Work and Childcare is Impossible).” Asahi Digital, January 16, 2021. Accessed February 16, 2021.

———. 2020b. “Shingata korona uirusu kansenshō kinkyū jitai sengen no kuiki henkō 新型コロナウイルス感染症緊急事態宣言の区域変更 (State of Emergency for New Coronavirus Infection and its Area Change).” Shingata korona uirusu kansenshō taisaku 新型コロナウイルス感染症対策 (Countermeasures for Coronavirus Infection), April 16, 2020. Accessed February 15, 2021.

Nishi, Makoto. 2020. “Jishuku, Social Distance and Care in the Time of COVID-19 in Japan.” Social Anthropology 28 (2): 331–32.

Nishihara, Mariko 西原麻里子, Ota Yukiko 太田悠希子, Taguchi Mina 田口美奈, Takahashi Rina 高橋里奈, Kokubu Anna 国分杏奈, Yanagi Jane 柳ジェイン, Hyodo Masaaki 兵藤壮亮, Fujihashi Asuka 藤橋明日香, and Sugishita Tomohiko 杉下智彦. 2020. “Kyōsei ka jishuku ka? COVID-19 ni okeru nihonjin daigakusei no ishiki chōsa kekka 強制か自粛か?COVID-19における日本人大学生の意識調査結果 (Mandatory? Or Voluntary? Student Survey on the Restraint Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic).” Journal of International Health 35 (2): 93–94.

Noda, Eriko 野田枝里子, Yoshizono Hisashi 吉園尚史, and Kawaguchi Atsuko 川口敦子. 2021. “Hoikuen, ichibu jichitai ga “tōein jishuku” motomeru gensoku kaien ga… 保育園、一部自治体が「登園自粛」求める 原則開園が… (Day Care Center, some Prefectures Request “Self-Restraint” Although in Principal Opening).” Asahi Digital, January 14, 2021. Accessed February 16, 2021.

Ogasawara, Hiroki 小笠原博毅. 2020. “Pandemikku to kyōshistu パンデミックと教室 (Pandemic and Classroom).” Ronza 論座, May 16, 2020. Accessed February 16, 2020.

Okada, Norio, Liping Fang, and D. Marc Kilgour. 2013. “Community-Based Decision Making in Japan.” Group Decision and Negotiation 22: 45–52.

Oogi, Shoujun 大來 尚順. 2016. ‘Shōganai’ to iu nihongo no ura ni aru isagiyosa 「しょうがない」という日本語の裏にある潔さ (Graciousness behind the Japanese Word ‘Shōganai’).” Tōyō Keizai 東洋経済, November 14, 2016. Accessed February 11, 2021.

Osumi, Magdalena. 2020. “Japan’s Re-Entry Ban Threatens Scholarships, Admission and Graduation for Foreign Students.” The Japan Times, June 19, 2020. Accessed April 25, 2021.

Panagopoulos, Nic. 2015. “Civic Virtue in Under Western Eyes.” The Conradian 40 (1): 36–53. Accessed February 9, 2021.

Pye, Lucian W., and Mary W. Pye. 1985. Asian Power and Politics: The Cultural Dimensions of Authority. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press.

Rawls, John. 1971. A Theory of Justice. Harvard: Harvard University Press.

Reuters. 2020. “Tokyo Hospital Trainees Test Positive for Coronavirus After Party.” Reuters, April 7, 2020. Accessed April 25, 2021.

Sakakibara, Ryota 榊原良太, and Ozono Hiroki 大園博記. 2020. “Nihon ni okeru shingata koronauirusu kansenshō wo meguru shinri kōdō ni kansuru chōsa: yobō shōrai no mitōshi jōhō kakusan ni shōten wo ateta kentō 日本における新型コロナウイルス感染症をめぐる心理・行動に関する調査予防行動・将来の見通し・情報拡散に焦点を当てた検討覧 (A Survey on the Psychology and Action around New Coronavirus Infection: Consideration Focused on the Prevention Action, Future Vision and Information Expansion).” PsyArXic, July 13, 2020.

Sandel, Michael J. 1996. Democracy’s Discontent. Cambridge, London: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Sato, Taketsugu 佐藤武嗣. 2021. “Koronaka de agaru shidōsha no shiji reigaiha nihon no naze コロナ禍で上がる指導者の指示 例外は日本のなぜ (Rise of Leders’ Popularity During Corona Pandemic Why Japan as an Axception).” Asahi Digital Another Note, February 3, 2021. Accessed February 16, 2021.

Smith, Steven Rathgeb, and Kirsten A. Grønbjerg. 2006. “10 Scope and Theory of Government-Nonprofit Relations.” In The Nonprofit Sector: A Research Handbook, Second Edition, edited by Walter W. Powell, and Richard Steinberg, 221–42. New Heaven, London: Yale University Press.

Sposato, William. 2020. “Japan’s Halfhearted Coronavirus Measures Are Working Anyway.” Foreign Policy, May 14, 2020, Accessed February 15, 2021.

Sturmer, Jake, and Yumi Asada. 2020. “Japan Was Feared to be the Next US or Italy. Instead Their Coronavirus Success is a Puzzling ‘Mystery’.” ABC News, May 23, 2020. Accessed February 15, 2021.

Takaku, Jun 高久潤. 2020. “Kansen bokumetsu to iu tadashisa ga umu murahachibu 感染撲滅という正しさが生む村八分 (Social Ostracism Caused by the Infection Extermination).” Asahi Digital, August 5, 2020. Accessed February 16, 2021.

Takano, Yōtarō 高野陽太郎. 2008. Shūdanshugi to iu sakkaku: nihonjinron no omoichigai to sono yurai 「集団主義」という錯覚—日本人論の思い違いとその由来 (The Illusion Called “Groupism”: Misconception of Nihonjin-ron and Its Origin). Tokyo: Shinyōsha.

Takasu, Yukio 高須幸雄. 2020. “Shingata koronauirusu kiki de minshushugi wa kōtai surunoka? 新型コロナウイルス危機で民主主義は後退するのか?(Does Democracy Slide Back by the New Coronavirus?)” Democracy for the Future, April 19, 2020. Accessed February 15, 2021.

Talisse, Robert. 2001. “Liberty, Community, and Democracy: Sidney Hook’s Pragmatic Deliberativism.” The Journal of Speculative Philosophy 15 (4): 286–304. Accessed February 9, 2021.

Tanaka, Satoko 田中聡子. 2020. “Kansen kakudai sezu ‘nihon sugoi’… 80nen mae to kasanaru iyana nagare 感染拡大せず「日本スゴイ」…80年前と重なる嫌な流れ (Infection Not Expanding ‘How Great Japan’... Disgusting Mood that Overlaps What It Was 80 Years Ago).” Asahi Digital, June 20, 2020. Accessed February 16, 2020.

The Japan News. 2021. “23 Health Ministry Officials Party in Ginza until Midnight.” The Japan News, March 30, 2021. Accessed April 25, 2021.

Tocqueville, Alexis de. 2003. Democracy in America: And Two Essays on America. Translated by Gerald Bevan. London: Penguin Books.

Tu, Wei-ming. 1996. “Introduction.” In Confucian Traditions in East Asian Modernity: Moral Education and Economic Culture in Japan and Four Mini-Dragons, edited by Wei-ming Tu, 1–10. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR). 2019. Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction. Geneva: United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction.

Uno, Shigeki 宇野重規, and Kai Kajitani 梶谷懐. 2020. “Koronaka de toinaosareru ‘kokka’ to ‘kojin’ コロナ禍で問い直される「国家」と「個人」 (‘Nation’ and ‘Individual’ Questioned under the Corona catastrophe).” Kōken 公研 58 (7): 36–53. Accessed February 16, 2021.

Urushihara, Jirō 漆原次郎. 2017. “Saigai wo ‘shikata nai’ to suru nihonjin no “mujōkan”, bōsai ishiki wo takameru niwa? 災害を「仕方ない」とする日本人の「無常観」、防災意識を高めるには?(Japanese ‘Mujōkan’ to Treat Disasters as ‘Can’t Be Helped’: How to Rise Disaster Prevention Consciousness?).” Wedge Infinity, March 11, 2017. Accessed February 11, 2021.

Vasi, Ion Bogdan, and Michael Macy. 2003. “The Mobilizer’s Dilemma: Crisis, Empowerment, and Collective Action.” Social Forces 81 (3): 979–98.

Wakui, Masako. 2020. “Free Market versus State or Something Else?: Civic Sector and Competition Law’s Role During the COVID-19 Pandemic in Japan.” Journal of Antitrust Enforcement 8: 316–18.

Watanabe, Tsutomu 渡辺努, and Yabu Tomoyoshi 藪友良. 2020. “Nihon no jihatsuteki rokkudaun ni kansuru kōsatsu 日本の自発的ロックダウンに関する考察 (Consideration on Voluntary Lockdown in Japan).” Working Paper on Central Bank Communication 26: 1–31. Accessed February 15, 2021.

Watsuji, Tetsurō. 2006. Antropología del paisaje (Climate and Culture). Translated by Juan Masiá, and Anselmo Mataix. Salamanca: Ediciones Sigueme.

Yabuki, Kimitoshi 矢吹公敏. 2020. “Shingata koronauirusu kansenshō to minshushugi no shōrai: shimin shakai no yakuwari 新型コロナウィルス感染症と民主主義の将来—市民社会の役割 (New Coronavirus Infection and the Future of Democracy: The Role of Civil Society).” Democracy for the Future, April 28, 2020. Accessed February 15, 2021.

Yamagishi, Toshio 山岸俊男. 2010. Kokoro dekkachi na nihonjin: shūdanshugi to iu gensō 心でっかちな日本人—集団主義という幻想 (The Japanese with Too Big Heart: Groupism is Only a Fantasy). Tokyo: Chikuma bunko.

Yamanaka, Shigeki 山中茂樹. 2018. “Rinen no hensen kara tadoru saigai fukkō no keifugaku: fukkō no kojinshugi to shūdanshugi no kōzōteki kaimei wo kokoromiru 理念の変遷からたどる災害復興の系譜学—復興の個人主義と集団主義の構造的解明を試みる (Genealogy of Disaster Recovery from the Viewpoint of Changing Principles: A Structural Analysis of ‘Individualism’ versus ‘Collectivism’ in Reconstruction).” Studies in Disaster Recovery and Revitalization 10: 1–37. Accessed February 16, 2021.

Yamazaki, Satoshi 山崎聡. 2021. “Uirusu yorimo ‘seken’ ga kowai kasōka de masu doōchō atsuryoku ウイルスよりも「世間」がこわい 仮想化で増す同調圧力 (Fear of ‘Seken’ Than Virus: Syntonic Pressure Increased by the Virtualization).” Asahi Digital, January 5, 2021. Accessed February 16, 2021.



19. 01. 2022

How to Cite

Ito-Morales, Kyoko. 2022. “Individual Rights Vs. Common Good? A Case Study on Japanese Self-Restraint (jishuku) and COVID-19”. Asian Studies 10 (1): 69-95.

Similar Articles

1-10 of 109

You may also start an advanced similarity search for this article.