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[ISHES Newsletter #29]A Look Back at 2020 from "Beyond COVID" Website Stories, and a Look Ahead at the Post-COVID world

2020/12/24 14:20:44

ISHES Newsletter #29
December 24, 2020

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Copyright (c) 2020

Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society, Japan


Photo by veeterzy on Unsplash.

Dear Readers,

The year 2020 has been a difficult year for everyone due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, and people around the world are still facing many challenges as we end the year with more and more new cases being reported every day.

Throughout the year, the Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society (ISHES) has searched for and shared stories with readers about initiatives in Japan, and would like to continue in 2021 finding news and stories to help our readers stay positive, be inspired, and discover creative ideas to get through this together.

As a recap, in 2020, we published the following articles:

January: Prospects for the 2020s at the start of the new decade

February: Activating Public Spaces through Citizen-Government Collaboration: Himeji Station North Exit Plaza

March: Kayac Inc.: The Making of a Cool Company and Cool Community

April: COVID-19 Pandemic: How We Can Get through It and Create a Better Future

May: The world after COVID-19

June: 'Candle Night' Special Solstice Event in Midst of COVID-19 Pandemic

July: The world after COVID-19: Surveys reveal changes among the environmentally and socially conscious people

August: 'Workation' (Work + Vacation): Clear Your Mind, Boost Your Creativity

September: Sustainable Business through Reverse Thinking: Why a Kyoto Restaurant Stops at 100 Meals a Day

October: Moving toward a Sustainable Society: Ethical Consumption in Japan

November: Japan at Last Announces Goal of Net Zero GHG Emissions by 2050


In this December 2020 issue, you will find the following article:

- A Look Back at 2020 from "Beyond COVID" Website Stories, and a Look Ahead at the Post-COVID World

The year 2020 was one filled with difficulties due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This article looks back at the year through articles posted on a new website launched to spread a little light of hope.

A Look Back at 2020 from "Beyond COVID" Website Stories, and a Look Ahead at the Post-COVID world

Image by Yottoko.

By the Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society, Japan

Who in the world could have imagined when 2020 began that the novel coronavirus would cause such havoc? The World Health Organization (WHO) declared a public health emergency of international concern on January 30. In Japan, events started being canceled in February. On March 2, from elementary to high school level schools nationwide were temporarily closed at the request of then-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. On April 7, seven prefectural-level governments including Tokyo issued an emergency declaration, and these expanded to cover the whole country on May 4. The declaration was lifted in all prefectures on May 25, but just as in other countries, the future is still uncertain.

In early April, as disturbing news poured in day after day, e's Inc. launched a new Japanese language website in an effort to spread even a little light of hope. Its full title is the equivalent of "Follow the wonderful efforts in Japan and abroad to overcome the novel coronavirus!" but we abbreviate it as "Corona no saki e" (Beyond COVID). Looking at the roughly 200 articles posted so far this year, one can see that the tone differs between the period during and after the state of emergency. In this final ISHES newsletter of 2020, we look back on 2020 as revealed through the posts on the "Beyond COVID" website (dates indicate when posted online).

(1) Articles during the state of emergency: Key theme, "supporting the vulnerable"

During the state of emergency in Japan, from April to May, there were many efforts to close schools, protect people and businesses affected by the emergency declaration, and support the medical workers on the frontlines.

School lunch programs halted due to school closures

The impact of school closures was not just that children stop learning and lost a place to be during the day. Many elementary and junior high schools in Japan serve healthy school lunches at noon, so the closures also meant that the lunch programs also stopped. This was a particular problem for households with low incomes or both parents working. Under the circumstances, various efforts started up to distribute bento lunch boxes for free or at low prices. Below is one initiative where farmers and restaurants partnered to deliver free lunches.

Article: Farmers and restaurants team up to deliver free lunch boxes

The Hugyutto Association in Tokyo's Edogawa ward created a new partnership with eight restaurants and two farms growing Japanese mustard spinach (komatsuna) to distribute free lunches to children whose schools had been closed due to the pandemic.

The inspiration behind this initiative was to support meals for children, to spread the message that the restaurants had started selling bento meal boxes, and to help reduce stress and promote mutual support.

At no cost, farmers provided participating restaurants up to 200 kg of komatsuna each time, plus potatoes, onions, mini-tomatoes, green onions, rice, and eggs, etc. The restaurants then prepared lunch boxes with the ingredients, and on three delivery dates (April 12, 18, 26) sent a total of about 500 meals to families with children in middle school or below (June 3).

Besides that story, the Beyond COVID website covered initiatives to sell surplus food to the general public in an effort to support food-related businesses whose institutional customers had stopped buying school lunches (April 20). Many other initiatives unrelated to school lunches were also undertaken to support restaurants by encouraging people to eat their food.

Efforts to support medical frontline workers

During this period, things were also difficult for frontline medical workers. The Beyond COVID website covered several initiatives to express gratitude to medical workers. One example was the release of a video featuring well-known soccer players from Japan's national team (April 20). An article on the "Oishii" (Delicious) project (April 26) featured meal boxes from chefs for medical teams working on the front lines, and 20,000 meals had been delivered by July. There were also grassroots efforts like the "APRIL TONE" story (April 30) about a campaign to provide medical masks with revenues from selling hand-made cloth masks. From all the coverage, readers could get a sense of the variety of efforts by diverse groups of people.

Support from local governments

Local governments also got involved in various support measures. An article (May 16) introduced business-support initiatives by five municipalities, including Fukuoka City in Fukuoka Prefecture. Meanwhile, Kanagawa Prefecture was recruiting people to work as part-time employees who had lost their jobs or lost work by hiring decisions being cancelled due to COVID-19 (April 28).

Article: Tsubame City sends locally-grown rice to support students who are staying away

Tsubame City in Niigata Prefecture started a program to send five kilograms of locally-grown Koshihikari rice and a handmade cloth mask to any student originally from Tsubame but living outside the prefecture and staying away to help prevent to the spread of COVID-19.

The program was for students from Tsubame City who were living and studying in areas covered by the government's state of emergency declaration. Since the area covered by the declaration was expanded to cover the whole country, all prefectures outside Niigata Prefecture were included in the program (as of April 22). Organizers were flooded with online applications, so it was taking some time to fill the requests (April 29).

(2) Articles after the state of emergency ended: Key theme - "Changing society for the better"

Image photo.

After the state of emergency was lifted on May 25, in addition to articles about protecting vulnerable groups, there was an increase in the number of articles exploring the potential to change society for the better. One theme was about initiatives to explore working from home and doing business online. One that had an especially Japanese angle was an about moves to end the use of personal stamps (inkan) and seals (hanko) that have traditionally been used in Japan instead of a written signature.

Going paperless to reduce trips to the office to stamp documents

In Japan, it has long been customary to press an ink stamp or seal on a document instead of using a signature, but this custom is now being reconsidered. For example, a company contract requires a company stamp to make it official. Working from home during the pandemic suddenly made it clear just how often employees had to travel to the office simply to stamp a document. People realized that this was a barrier to working from home. The "Beyond COVID" website covered this topic with a story about the "Tohoku University Online Office Declaration" intended to end the use of stamps by the university (June 14), and a story about the manufacturer Hitachi Ltd. moving toward the paperless office (December 22).

Migration away from major city centers

Another theme attracting attention is the movement away from major urban centers. Japan's total population is about 125 million people, with more than 10% (about 14 million) living in the Tokyo. Many people can picture the concentration of people from images of the crowded trains. Tokyo was continuing to attract more people until recently, but with more people working from home during the pandemic, a turning point was reached in June 2020, and the population then declined for four consecutive months from August through November.

On this topic the "Beyond COVID" website described a survey by Japan's Cabinet Office that found that among people who had experienced working from home, 24.6% were interested in moving away from major urban centers, more than in previous surveys, compared to only 10% of those who had not experienced working from home (September 11). In some cases, companies are actually moving away from urban centers. By 2023, The Pasona Group, specializing in staffing services, plans to have about 1,200 of its 1,800 employees responsible for head office (Tokyo) functions working from Awaji Island near Kobe and Osaka (September 29).

Finally, we would like to mention an article about "ethical job hunting" as an example of young people trying to enter a new society with new ways of thinking.

Article: Allesgood offers "ethical job hunting" as a new option for career search

Allesgood was created an organization to provide information for student career seekers who have a high interest in social issues. They hold online events to connect job seekers with companies, under the Japanese hashtag #ethicalshukatsu (#EthicalJobHunting would be an English equivalent). It was started by university students attuned to heightened awareness of the vulnerability of society due to the pandemic, knowing the pandemic would affect corporate hiring activities. They launched with the idea of changing the recruitment process and at the same time changing society, Japan and the world for the better. They coined the term "ethical job hunting" to describe this job searching process that considers people, the environment, and society, and with that have been sharing information and organizing events (December 2).

Looking back at these articles, we can feel the shift from "first let's get through this" that lasted until the state of emergency declaration was lifted in May, to a new stage of looking toward the future of society, with local governments, companies, and individuals working in their respective roles. When the state of emergency was declared, we could see many solidarity-type initiatives to help survive the emergency, with restaurants and farmers working together to support local children, local governments reaching out to people who were living away from home, and efforts to encourage medical workers. These displays of solidarity give everyone hope to overcome challenges in a time of crisis.

What kind of news will we be reporting in 2021? Through the Beyond COVID website and the ISHES newsletter we plan to continue next year sharing some light of hope for the future.

Season's Greetings from ISHES

We take this opportunity to express our heartfelt appreciation for the interest, encouraging feedback, and continuous support we have received from you, our readers and supporters, during the past year.

The world's challenges continue, but ISHES will also continue thinking about a better post-COVID future and working to share stories about positive efforts and initiatives in Japan with our readers.

We wish you a happy, safe, and sustainable New Year in 2021!


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.

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