In the fight against COVID-19, neighborhood associations could be Japan's ace in the hole


Japan has found itself in a unique predicament. While governments around the world have responded to the spread of the new coronavirus by instituting draconian measures to curtail social interaction, Japan’s central and local governments have no authority to implement or enforce such measures. Instead, they’re relying on something else to convince citizens to socially distance: persuasion.

Correct. It is against the law for any government in Japan to compel law-abiding citizens to go home and stay there. The American-written Japanese constitution forbids the government from having that degree of power over the population ever again, meaning any “Stay Home” law would need to be preceded by a constitutional change, which is incredibly difficult and time consuming.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has set a target of reducing social interactions by 80 percent. However, recent data suggests that, at least in Tokyo, foot traffic and public transport ridership have dropped by only about half of that. This raises the question: What if this approach isn’t enough to suppress the virus’s spread? […] Japanese history may also provide a solution to the current problem, in the form of two of the country’s most durable local institutions — neighborhood associations (chо̄naikai) and residents’ associations (jichikai).

This is an interesting idea, and completely reasonable for many people. The neighbourhood association members know the people in the area and their various circumstances. This could allow for a semi-lenient means of encouraging social distancing should the need for stricter adherence arise. So far, in this area, a half-assed commitment to distancing seems to be sufficient.