10 Positive News Stories from Japan Most of Us Missed During the Coronavirus Outbreak

From how Twitter saved an old soba shop to birth miracles amid the pandemic, these are the headlines that gave us hope again.

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“Every day, at around 4 pm, my 5-year-old asks what today’s number of infections was in Tokyo. It must be the news,” the man says as he looks out of the window overseeing our neighborhood’s empty shopping street. I’m inside a local restaurant waiting for my take-out order as we chat with the owner about how the world has changed so drastically over the past months. Having a career in the media sector makes it normal for me to stay up to date with the news and keep a regular track of what’s happening in Japan. But it bothered me so much that this could be “the new normal” for such a young kid.

The past couple of months have been nothing but overwhelming and anxiety-inducing. Despite Japan having lifted the nationwide state of emergency earlier this week, worrying news continue to dominate the headlines. But maybe it’s time for a short mental break to focus on something brighter that’s also been happening in the shadow of the pandemic. If you, too, need a little positivity right now, here are ten good things that happened in Japan over the past few months while we weren’t paying attention. 

1. 36-year-old political newcomer becomes Japan’s youngest female mayor

Young, independent and a rookie. A woman in a massively male-dominated political world. Typically, not a combination that promises an easy path ahead. But Sawako Naito managed to beat all odds against her, so congratulations, Tokushima city! Naito was elected head of Tokushima city on April 5, defeating incumbent Mayor Akiyoshi Endo (64) by 41,247 votes to 39,248. In an article reporting on the election, Kyodo News quoted Naito as saying, “With the perspective of a woman, I want to make Tokushima a comfortable city for working citizens and families with small children.” 

2. Twitter saves an old noodle shop from bankruptcy 

Orisho, a soba noodles restaurant in Yonezawa, Yamagata, was one of the many small local businesses that were suffering the coronavirus damage. With fewer people eating out under the nationwide state of emergency, the restaurant went almost on the verge of bankruptcy. As a last resort, on April 20, the restaurant owner started a Twitter account through which he honestly disclosed that they’re on the verge. He also informed followers that the restaurant is still delivering fresh soba noodles, so “whoever is interested, please give us a call.”

The tweet went viral, being reposted 12.5k times in the range of a few days. The restaurant started getting over 200 orders a day, giving them another problem — they could only make half of that in a day. But the bankruptcy was no longer an issue. 

3. Former Zozotown CEO Yusaku Maezawa established fund for single parents in Japan 

On May 10, the day Japan celebrated Mother’s Day, the former Zozotown CEO Yusaku Maezawa announced the launch of his “Single Parent Support Fund.” The fund aims to support single parents who are struggling to make ends meet, especially those who have been further affected by the coronavirus outbreak. The fund’s first initiative was to distribute ¥100,000 to 10,000 single parents across Japan. The campaign went viral and received 447,159 applications. The lucky 10,000 have already received the money — way faster than the Prime Minister’s coronavirus relief fund. 

4. Road accidents fell to record low in April 

One of the most positive outcomes of Japan’s self-isolation amid the coronavirus outbreak was the decline in road traffic incidents. With more people staying in, more lives are being saved — not only from the virus. The total number of road accidents across the country stood at 20,805 in April, a massive drop by 11,827 (36%) from the previous year. This is the lowest figure since comparable monthly data became available in 1989. The decline in accidents was the highest in the capital, where the figures dropped by 48.2%.

5. The Japanese celebrity babies born (or conceived) during the pandemic 

Giving birth amid a pandemic could be one of the most frightening things to ever happen to a family, but things went perfectly well for several Japanese famous faces. Toshiaki Kasuga from the comedy duo Audrey welcomed his first child, a baby girl, on May 8. Mana Takahashi, a 38-year-old TV announcer and personality, also gave birth in late April to her first child. Meanwhile, musician Daigo and actress Keiko Kitagawa, one of Japan’s most beloved couples, announced on April 22 that they are expecting their first child later this year. 

6. More municipalities join Japan’s same-sex partnership system 

Japan’s Same-sex Partnership Agreement, a system that issues same-sex couples partnership certificates which can be used in various civil matters, such as hospital visitations and housing, is far from ideal for it doesn’t legally recognize same-sex marriage in Japan. But it’s also a step forward. And with more prefectures and municipalities joining in, hopefully, the closer Japan is getting to legalizing same-sex marriage. From April 1, 2020, 13 more municipalities joined the system: Saitama City (Saitama), Niigata City (Niigata), Hamamatsu City (Shizuoka), Sagamihara City (Kanagawa), Minato Ward (Tokyo), Bunkyo Ward (Tokyo), Zushi City (Kanagawa), Yamatokoriyama City (Nara), Nara City (Nara), Takamatsu City (Kagawa), Tokushima City (Tokushima), Koga City (Fukuoka), Kijo Town (Miyazaki). In May, another three joined: Kawagoe City in Saitama, Toyoake City in Aichi and Itami City in Hyogo. As of present, 50 municipalities in Japan have joined the Same-sex Partnership Agreement. 

More good news on this topic: Following Saitama city’s decision to introduce the Same-sex Partnership Agreement, Saimyouji, a Buddhist temple in Kawagoe, started offering weddings to couples regardless of their sexual orientation, religion or ethnicity.

7. Leukemia-battling swimmer Rikako Ikee opens up on Instagram 

 

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Rikako Ikee, one of Japan’s most promising athletes, who has been battling leukemia and undergoing chemotherapy since last year, opened up on Instagram for the first time, showing her short hair new look. Ikee said on Instagram that she hopes her message would “give hope to fellow athletes and anyone battling similar hardships.” In the post, a collaboration with cosmetics brand SK-II, the 19-year-old six-time Asian Games gold medalist and national record holder, encouraged people to stay strong and fight for better days as she recalled her own experience of launching her battle with leukemia. “It’s a miracle that I’m alive. […] But with the help of my family, friends and all the encouragement from you, I was able to overcome the disease. We are not alone. Let’s overcome this together.” 

8. Crowdfunding project “Osaka AID” saves small businesses 

Launched on Japan’s crowdfunding platform Makuake, Osaka AID is a project that aims to raise financial aid for restaurants, shops, beauty salons and other small businesses operating in the Osaka area that are struggling due to the coronavirus outbreak. The project was launched on May 11, aiming to collect ¥2 million, which was achieved within 54 minutes of the launch. As of the time of writing, the project has raised over ¥3.5 million and there are still 20 days to go. 

9. The heartwarming “thank you” message that didn’t go unnoticed

For every person who stayed at home to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, there was someone else who had to work outside to continue our normalcy as much as that was possible. One of those industries that typically doesn’t get in the spotlight is garbage collection services. With more people staying indoors, if those services had stopped functioning as efficiently as usual, there would have been many other types of infections to worry about. Someone who realized this, decided to express their gratitude to the staff collecting their garbage by leaving a hand-written note addressed to them.

It read: “Thank you for always collecting our garbage. What you do isn’t easy, especially now when it puts you at risk of infection and when the amount of garbage has increased so much with more families staying indoors. Please take care of yourself not to get infected. Let’s overcome this together. Watch out for back pain, too. — From us residents.” The staff who found the note took a picture and posted it on his Twitter account, saying, “The moment I really felt proud of collecting garbage. Japan isn’t quite rotten after all.”

10. Coronavirus-infected woman gives birth to healthy baby; both recover soon after 

A pregnant woman who had tested positive for Covid-19, gave birth at Kitasato University Hospital in Kanagawa Prefecture in early April, in what became Japan’s first birth by a coronavirus- infected mother.

The woman, in her 30s, gave birth in her 38th week via a cesarean section and the baby was quarantined immediately after it was delivered. Multiple tests confirmed that the baby was not infected with the virus. The mother underwent intensive treatment and both left the hospital in good health several weeks later.

Got a positive news story to share? Let us know in the comments. 

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