ISHES Newsletter

Back Number

[ISHES Newsletter #22]The world after COVID-19

2020/05/25 15:31:15

ISHES Newsletter #22
May 25, 2020

See what's new on our web site:
Copyright (c) 2020

Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society, Japan


Dear Readers,

For our newsletter this month, we share a new article by Junko Edahiro, president of the Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society (ISHES), Japan, continuing on her theme from last month.

This issue looks at the prospects for the world after COVID-19, in four parts: "What COVID-19 has done," "What does the COVID-19 crisis really mean?" "A recognition of the importance of life," and "Urban-rural relationships."

The world after COVID-19

Photo by veeterzy on Unsplash.

By Junko Edahiro, President of the Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society (ISHES), Japan

What COVID-19 has done

The COVID-19 pandemic is pushing society faster in some directions we were already headed. Working remotely is one obvious example. Others are remote medicine and online education. We were moving little-by-little in those directions, but the pandemic thrust the need for change before our eyes, and now the shifts and transformations are starting to happen at a rapid pace.

Actually, it would be wise to start steadily transitioning during normal times. But during normal times, the pace of change is slowed by a bias to maintain the status quo. People may think there are no particular problems with the current situation, so why risk making changes? If that is how people think, then it takes an emergency like the one we are now facing to trigger and accelerate movement in the directions we were already headed.

I believe the rapid spread of COVID-19 has the potential to make society want to either go back to where things were before, or to make significant changes to recognize what is truly important. For example, the global pandemic and its shockwaves in the economy and industry have clearly reminded us how interconnected our world really is. Instead of just proclaiming the merits of globalization, it also makes us rethink its demerits, risks, and vulnerabilities, and forces us to prioritize things. What should be globalized and how far should we go with that? And what should be kept local?

Looking at Japan and the rest of the world in the midst of COVID-19, e's Inc. (where I also serve as president) is posting examples on its website of moves in directions we were already headed even prior to the pandemic, wanting to go back to where things were before, and what is truly important. This will give us some direction to answer the question of what kind of "post-COVID" world and society we want to create at the other end of the COVID-19 tunnel. We continue to gather and share (mainly in Japanese at the moment) examples of situations and efforts in Japan and around the world that indicate what kind of society people want to have in the future and what they would like the world to be like.

What does the COVID-19 crisis really mean?

The ways in which organizations, society, and individuals perceive this coronavirus pandemic will significantly affect them in the future.

Observing reactions around the world, I have seen two major ways of looking at this crisis. One view is that this is just a passing emergency, a temporary anomaly, so things will return to normal after it is over. Seen this way, the key strategy is to endure this situation until it passes.

Another view is to see the COVID-19 crisis as an alarm bell telling us things cannot continue as they were. Seen this way, the key strategy is to ask what we can learn from the crisis, and based on that, how should we change?

What comes next will differ significantly for each company, organization, community, or society, depending on which of the two perspectives is chosen. Obviously, I tend to take the second view. What we can learn from the crisis, and based on that, how we should change? I believe that the future rise or fall of organizations, companies in particular, will be determined by which view they take.

At first, many people thought this would just last a month or two: "This is an emergency so if we just endure things for a little while, everything will return to normal." But now, many are starting to strongly sense, or at least get an inkling, that the world will not be the same when we exit from the other end of the COVID-19 tunnel. People are now starting to talk about a "post-corona" "new normal." But first, I think it's important to start examining what COVID-19 has shown us was already on shaky ground?

A recognition of the importance of life

Image by geralt.

One thing that became clear from this COVIV-19 crisis is that the importance of life trumps all else. To avoid having to confront life or death situations, we have had to shrink economic activity, endure restrictions on convenience and fun, and resign ourselves to simply accept our circumstances. We could say that society as a whole is reconfirming the basic consensus that life is more important than the economy.

Until now, there was a tendency for some to think that continued economic growth and economic activity were more important than anything else. However, I interpret our current situation more positively. There is potential for society as a whole to come to a shared awareness that, after all, life is more important than anything else. A shift away from an economy and society that undervalues or fails to consider life, to an economy and society that does value life.

The spread of COVID-19 is causing the medical system to collapse in some countries, while others (including Japan) are worried about the potential for that to happen for them too. One major factor in medical system collapse is the rate of infection, but this is also affected by the level of development of medical and health facilities and systems.

The United States has reportedly slashed funding for medical and health R&D. Meanwhile, in Japan, public health centers are a public institution on the frontline of health and sanitation support for communities, but the number of these centers has dropped significantly since around 1990. A study by Japan's Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare found that the 852 public health centers in 1992 had been slashed to nearly half at 469 in 2020 over a period of about thirty years. Similarly, there may not have been enough priority placed on training and maintaining hospital systems and health care workers.

Thus, when a highly infectious disease strikes where the very frameworks that sustain public health and medical systems have been weakened, concerns arise about the collapse of the medical system. We need to reconsider what is truly important and what needs to be protected. Functions like these that fulfill such an important role during times of emergency may seem redundant during regular times, but it is also necessary to think carefully about the future, about how to maintain them.

Urban-rural relationships

Photo by Alvaro Araoz on Unsplash.

Another thing that became clear is a reversal in the relationships between urban and rural areas. An acquaintance from Manila in the Philippines told me something interesting. Until now, people who left their villages in the country to work in the city were sending money back to the places they were born. Now they cannot work due to the lockdowns in the city, but people in rural areas can still work, so now money is being sent from the country to the locked-down cities.

In Japan as well, it has become increasingly clear how urban-rural relationships were becoming fraught. People, energy and food were all flowing from the countryside into Tokyo, and that structure was supporting the prosperity of Tokyo. But now it has become clear how extremely vulnerable these rural-urban relationships are, especially for cities.

In times like this pandemic people are no longer able to move about, also constraining the movement of things, so life in Tokyo and other big cities becomes more difficult. Take food for example. Tokyo's food self-sufficiency rate is only about 1%, so the food system is premised on a huge volume of food coming in from elsewhere.

In contrast, areas away from the city were typically considered to be backwards, having nothing interesting to offer and lacking the conveniences of Tokyo. But they are strong in other ways. When there is a crisis, they can still manage to feed themselves. Here is what someone from an island with a population of about 200 told me: "We don't make things to sell off-island. We grow the food we eat. We have fish. We have vegetables. We don't put our elderly into institutions. City people are saying how difficult things are now because the economy has stopped due to COVID-19. But in times like these, an island copes better."

The countryside has no overcrowding like we see with people commuting to work in the city. The risk of virus infection in the country is lower. Rural communities used to plead to city dwellers, "Please come, and spend your money!" But now they tell them, "Please stay away!"

For rural youth the dream has long been to move to the metropolis of Tokyo to make a living. But now able to see more clearly the current vulnerabilities and dangers of the city, their attitudes appear to be changing. An employment information company conducted an Internet survey April 24 to May 1 on the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on persons in their twenties who were seeking a career change. Thirty-six percent of the 360 respondents wanted to switch to jobs away from the big cities, an increase of 14 percentage points since February. Notable reasons included "I realized I could work remotely without having to be in any specific location," "I felt that working in the city was risky," and "I want to return to my home town."

The world after COVID-19

There is a growing trend in Japan and around the world to think not so much about treatments for the COVID-19 pandemic, but rather, what our economies and societies should be like on the other side of the COVID-19 tunnel. We at ISHES are monitoring developments in Japan and elsewhere, and as the search continues on how to create a new era, we hope to introduce insights, suggestions and examples from around the world and contribute to a deeper discussion and consideration from various perspectives. If you come across some interesting information or initiatives to share please do let us know!


Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society

*The Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society (ISHES) is an organization based in Japan that is working to build a happy and sustainable society. To this end, we need to think about happiness, the economy and society together by learning from, analyzing, and thinking about theories and cases in Japan and around the world on what happiness is and what kind of economy and society will create and support happiness.

The Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society newsletter is a free monthly newsletter to keep you up to date with the latest information. ISHES bears no liability for the newsletter's contents or use of the information provided.

We welcome your comments. Please send them to:

Copyright (c) 2020, Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society. All Rights Reserved.

We invite you to forward this ISHES newsletter and/or use its contents in your own publications, with credit to the "Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society,"
To subscribe or unsubscribe, please visit

Back issues of the newsletter are available here.

Page Top

powered byメール配信CGI acmailer