A Future Projection of Post-Covid-19 in Japan: Universal Values and International Cooperation

Yukio Sakurai
Independent Researcher, yukio1887@gmail.com


This essay aims to clarify the most popular impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and examine a future projection of Post-COVID-19 in Japan. This is based on interdisciplinary studies, particularly the literature survey on global governance in English and Japanese. Japan has consistently lived after WWII under the principles of freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. Given the challenges caused by the pandemic, it is unpredictable how much conflict between multiple powers will hinder national security and economic globalization. The following five actions should be executed: Japan should participate in international research activities to envision a future society, Japan should adopt a unique future concept to address ageing populations and social security reform in their international cooperation, a review of neoliberalism, construction of a society that can respond to societal risks, and political leadership and freedom of speech to deal with serious social risks should be championed.

KEYWORDS: COVID-19 Pandemic, Universal Values, Ageing Population, International Cooperation


It is believed that viral infections, including tuberculosis, have been overcome in developed countries and are regarded as issues affecting developing countries. SARS and MERS had little impact, and even the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on lives was as small as the usual annual damage of influenza in Japan. In fact, the excess mortality of Japan in 2020 was reported as ‘minus15,000,’ including an effect of the COVID-19 pandemic impacts (Bando, 2021).

The trend in Japan, however, changed in August 2021 due to the spread of the delta strain (Kurita, Sugawara, and Ohkusa, 2022), and the excess mortality of Japan in 2021 was reported as ‘plus 12,293,’ including an effect of the COVID-19 pandemic impacts (NIID Japan, 2022a). Since then, the epidemic of the new corona infection has been confirmed several times, and now (January 2023) Japan is hit by the double infection risk of the 8th wave of the omicron corona and the influenza epidemic (NIID Japan, 2022b).

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought an unprecedented crisis to every country/area. The government of Japan has been addressing this issue for years and has found a solution through vaccination. Yet, an uncertain situation remains in east Asian countries, including China. In contrast, the UK and European countries lifted all the restrictions related to COVID-19. This creates a considerable gap in COVID-19 policies between countries/areas. Currently, moves to mutate COVID-19 into a highly infectious virus and to carry out repeated vaccination are simultaneously progressing, and the battle between the two still continues in some countries while accidents caused by vaccination appear.

The COVID-19 pandemic has emerged as a global issue. Why did it so happen? It is supposed that the COVID-19 pandemic attacked the weakest areas of the contemporary world. The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have extended to general policies, including politics, the economy, employment, education, and people’s lifestyle (Sakurai, 2021). Given these challenges, what is a projection of post-COVID-19 in Japan? This is the research question that this essay intends to answer. Some views responding to this question appear (i.e., Burrows and Engelke, 2020; Yuval, 2020; NIRA, 2020; Schwab, 2020; CFR, 2021; Roubík et al., 2022; Ciravegna and Michailova, 2022). This essay is based on interdisciplinary studies, particularly the literature survey on global governance and adult protection in English and Japanese. The scope of consideration is not limited to the national health policy but also general policies. The discussion is basically focused on Japan, but some of the discussion would presumably find global application.

Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic is examined to understand its most popular impacts. In Japan, first, a lack of national leadership was revealed. The failure to promptly produce effective countermeasures against the COVID-19 pandemic was no different in other countries, but the national leaders could not communicate effectively to the people in their own words in the event of a national crisis. A perception gap between the national leaders and the people might have been happening. This gap raises the frustration of the people that a person who is not qualified to be a leader oversees national affairs. Even if politicians were not capable of that much, Japan was assumed to have talented bureaucrats and academic experts.

However, with the national crisis caused by the pandemic, national bureaucrats who rely on precedent and execute their duties under the law have become confused without clear guidance from politicians of the ruling parties. Behind it, there was a change in the personnel system for national bureaucrats during the second Shinzo Abe Administration. The cabinet of Japan has collectively administered executive personnel affairs of each ministry and agency through the Cabinet Personnel Management Agency since 2014. With this system, each ministry/agency is under the control of the Cabinet, and the Prime Minister can behave like a President (Toda, 2015). Academic experts in the field of public health can analyze and explain issues pertaining to their specific research areas, but it was also revealed that they lack the ability to think about the relationship between public health and state management. The national bureaucrats and academic experts turned out to be less reliable in coping with a crisis than thought.

Second, information from the mass media lacks a good balance. The mass media has reported the risk of the COVID-19 pandemic like the pandemic was a flood, thereby instilling fear in the public; the information lacked scientific data-based analysis, and they could not project the medium to long-term impacts. As a result, the public, especially elderly people and people with disabilities, who continued to watch the mass media reports on TV and/or in newspapers, seemed to be atrophied and suffered more psychological consequences than the actual harm caused by the COVID-19 pandemic (Murakami, 2021).

In contrast, those who were sceptical about the media coverage suspended watching the TV and/or reading newspapers, and consequently, mass media alienation, particularly among young people, rapidly increased. A web research survey in September 2020 in Japan shows that “video” is the top media for teens and their 20s, and ‘TV’ is the top media for people in their 30s to 60s. About 30 per cent of teens and 20s do not trust mass media (Yamaji, 2020). This leads to a gap in perception between generations on the COVID-19 pandemic issue.

Third, tremendous peer pressure is seen in society. Peer pressure is “the strong influence of a group, especially a group of children, on members of that group to behave as everyone else does” (Cambridge Online Dictionary, 2022). Peer pressure is so strong in Japan, and it is considered a national character. Various factors are assumed to constitute a phenomenon of peer pressure, such as historical reasons (i.e., the mentality of agricultural society), primary educational effects (i.e., moral education on collectivism), and a local practice not to make things transparent (i.e., part of Japanese philosophy), and none of them is the overwhelming reason.

Peer pressure contributes towards ensuring discipline even in natural disasters, such as earthquakes and tsunamis. But everyone, including a child, the elderly, and a person with a disability, is forced to comply with the regulations or guidelines shared among people in daily life, such as washing hands, wearing nose masks, social distancing, leaving windows open for proper ventilation, and keeping silent in a closed public space. Those who break the regulations or guidelines, intentionally or unintentionally, tend to be heavily criticized, not necessarily by the authority, but by other people, even when breaking the guidelines are not deemed illegal.

Japan has no state of an emergency clause in its constitution. The Government of Japan can only declare a state of emergency by law in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which is not enforced on people like a lockdown but requests people to observe the regulations or guidelines by relevant voluntary restrictions or by order, due to amendments to the law in February 2021, under the local governor’s supervision in the relevant jurisdictions (Ida, 2020); The Kyodo news poll survey (March to April 2021) showed that 57 per cent of Japanese people agree to amend its constitution to incorporate state of the emergency clause, but it has not materialized.

A reason why peer pressure happens is presumably due to the practice that individual responsibility is questioned if his or her behaviour negatively affects society (Kokami and Sato, 2020). Anonymous posts in social networking systems (SNS) are further amplifying the pressure with words of slander and humiliation. Activities of the so-called “Pandemic Police,” a self-appointed enforcer of business closure and stay-at-home requests during the pandemic, were frequently seen before the Government of Japan declared a state of emergency by law. After the declaration, restrictions were requested by law, and the activities of the Pandemic Police disappeared. This is because “the standards for self-restraint that serve as rules are ambiguous, and many people do not follow requests, leaving them without confidence in justice”, according to the comments of an expert, Hajime Ohta (Jiji Press, 2021).

Fourth, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a serious impact on all industries. Along with the rapid slump in demands, the working environment for clerical workers changed drastically with a switch to the online work-from-home method. Whilst there are some industries that obtained excessive incomes due to the malfunction of certain manufacturing goods and their global logistic chains. Universities closed their gates and stopped all activities at the initial stage and then shifted to online lectures. It was understood that research institutes, such as universities, which were originally believed to respond to national crises from a scientific standpoint, ran for self-defence in the event of an emergency, did not carry out any conspicuous activities at the initial months but rather closed their doors. These activities were instructed by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology of Japan.

In the global community, first, diplomatic relations between nations have deteriorated, increasing the threat of potential conflicts. In particular, the deterioration of the–China relationship is remarkable (Nye JS Jr, 2020). From the US and its allies’ perspectives, China’s “unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the East and South China Seas and any acts of intimidation” is the chief focus (MOFA, 2021). However, China has a different view (MFAC, 2021). It seems that “conflicts of powers, interests, and even values” (Kosaka, 2017: 21) are happening between the two nations. The conflicts may lead to divisions of the global community into two or more. Despite the need for the global community, which is composed of the United Nations (UN), to point in some direction to issues that cannot be addressed by a single nation, it has not been possible to respond effectively to potential conflicts between nations (UN, 2022). Then, the Russia-Ukraine military conflict happened in such a situation that the global community could not maintain the tie for international cooperation, but a division between the two nations ended (ECFR, 2022).

Second, it was suspected that international organizations, such as the World Health Organization (WHO), are under the influence of a certain country. The “WHO-convened global study of origins of SARS-CoV-2: China Part” was published in February 2021. Less enough clarification has been made in the report, and further studies are needed (WHO, 2021). This shows how difficult it is for such international institutions to maintain neutrality in the global community. In fact, four heads of the UN affiliate organizations (i.e., FAO, ICAO, ITU, and UNIDO) were from a certain country. Whilst international cooperation was needed to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, effective international cooperation could not be practised, at least during the initial stage.

Third, the role of SNS expanded rapidly, and in some cases, untrue information was spread, intentionally or unintentionally. The move by major SNS providers to unilaterally delete users’ remarks that are not in the national interest and its policy has become apparent. For example, some Japanese YouTubers mention that it happens on YouTube, and thus, they carefully pay attention to their topics and expressions not to touch upon the administrator’s alerts. This clearly demonstrates that the position of the international SNS speech theatre is not always neutral nor safe but is under threat to the freedom of speech by major SNS providers as commercial companies.

Fourth, the alienation of vulnerable people has become prevalent. Due to the suspension of economic activities, many have become unemployed worldwide, and the number of people who are in financial difficulty has increased. In fact, in the 2020 ILO-OECD paper, it was addressed that it is “important to start on the task of building back better to address the deep-rooted labour market fragilities and structural inequalities that the pandemic has exposed” (ILO-OECD, 2020: 3). Elderly care facilities have become a potential spot for COVID-19 clusters and suffer from a severe shortage of social workers (Kohn, 2020, 2021). Older residents have been isolated without contact with relatives and friends due to the strict in-house operational rules. People living in closed facilities, such as prisoners, people with severe intellectual disabilities, and people with severe dementia, were placed in a similar situation.

Future Condition Settings

To consider the research question, it is necessary that certain conditions are set for the future. First, a society with an ageing population is expected worldwide. Population composition is the result of past accumulation and is the most convincing future composition. There were 702.9 million persons aged 65 years or over in the world in 2019, and the number of elderly persons is projected to be 1,548.9 million in 2050 (UN, 2019: 5). Globally, the share of the population aged 65 years or over will increase from 9 per cent in 2019 to 16 per cent by 2050 (UN, 2019: 1). The ageing of the population is a global phenomenon except for Africa (ibid.), and it is predicted to continue in the future. In particular, the ageing of the population in Europe and East Asia is expected to have a profound effect on the medical, aged care and social security policies of each country. It is important to establish social protection programs that can be sustained over the long term to prevent poverty, reduce inequality and promote social inclusion among elderly people.

Second, a society in which the role of artificial intelligence (AI) is increasing with progress in information technology (IT) is expected. It is a society in which IT will be used for automatic driving technology in automobiles, analysis of big data, management of personal information, social surveillance and military devices, and so on. It is expected that developed countries will shift from post-industrial societies to AI societies in the 2030s. For example, the Cabinet Office of Japan shows the project “Society 5.0” (Cabinet Office of Japan, 2021) to bring about a human-centred society by utilizing AI. This society also includes the risk of surveillance society and cyber-attack and needs effective safeguards to avoid excessive surveillance by the government and commercial companies to restrict human rights.

Third, a possible increase in depersonalization is expected. Depersonalization is “a psychopathological syndrome characterized by loss of identity and feelings of unreality and strangeness about one’s own behaviour” (Merriam-Webster, 2022). Due to conflicts of interest between generations arising from the declining birthrate and ageing of the population in developed countries and loss of employment opportunities, particularly for young workers in part because of society’s dependence on IT and AI, social ties will be gradually weakened, and suspicions will be widespread, making it difficult for people to establish trust and interdependence in communities. Eventually, depersonalization is expected to occur, as Karl Marx predicted (Grimmes and Simmons, 1970).

Fourth, the conflict of universal values between countries is expected. In the uncertain domestic and international situation, the important thing in imagining the future is to ‘return to the basics.’ It is a reconfirmation of the basic principles of society and a clarification of the social norms. Japan has consistently lived after WWII under the principles of freedom, democracy, human rights, the rule of law, and peace. These universal values were reconfirmed at the Japan-US Summit Meeting in Washington on April 16, 2021 (MOFA, 2021). All of these are believed to be universal values ​​and do not change at all, even with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But it is true that all countries do not always accept the above values (Eto, 2017; Green, 2021). For this reason, Japan may suffer from contradictory double standards of values, namely, the relations with countries that share universal values ​​and relations with countries that do not. Behind this is the progress of economic globalization, where business is carried out across borders. Whether this economic globalization will block the relationships between countries that share universal values and those that do not in the future depends on future developments (Naganuma, 2020).

If these relations were to be blocked, commercial transactions and finance for exchanging goods, services, and money would be confined to a certain area, and free trade and financial transactions in the world would not be possible. Even if clear blocking is avoided, according to the relevant sharing of universal values, potential conflicts between multiple powers can lead to divisions in the world. It is unpredictable how much conflict between multiple powers will hinder national security and economic globalization, and this is a serious key point. This movement may lead to a shortage of important basic commodities, such as energy resources, food materials, rare metals, and water.

A Future Projection of Post-COVID-19: Five Actions

Based on the above-mentioned impacts and settings, a future projection of post-COVID-19 is examined. First, Japan’s participation in international co-research activities that envision a future society is vital. It is well known that before the end of World War II, the political leaders held summit meetings to create a new post-war world order. A well-known meeting was that the three heads of state of the U.S., Britain, and the Soviet Union met at Yalta in Crimea and concluded the Yalta Agreement in February 1945. Although the COVID-19 pandemic is not a war between nations, it will need to be treated in such a manner in view of its large-scale multifaceted impact. Therefore, it is necessary to envision a world order after the COVID-19 pandemic must have been overcome.

In the process of this concept-making, it is desirable that a voluntary gathering of thought leaders is held. There can be various avenues, such as G7 and G20 meetings led by the major political leaders, the UN, international symposiums with individual participation of opinion leaders, and study group meetings among international research institutes. It is thus essential to adopt a policy such that there will always be Japanese representatives at each event. To support this research activity on domestic and foreign relations, a special task force, such as a future vision team, in the Cabinet Office of Japan will be important. It seems essential to adopt the leadership of Japan that are clear enough to the Japanese people and the global community.

Second, it is important for Japan to contribute a unique future concept to the global community. This is to ensure Japan’s national identity in the international community and to encourage national security in a broad sense through the contribution. Issues common to all countries/areas in the world include the ageing of the population and social security reform. Ageing of the population is one of the most serious issues facing Japan at present, but it is conceivable that Japan, which constitutes the world’s most aged society, will take advantage of this and produce countermeasures. The proportion of Japan’s population aged 65 and over was 29.1 per cent in September 2022. It is expected to rise to 38.4 per cent by 2065. Thus, Japan has become a super-aged society, and the population is even ageing further (Cabinet Office of Japan, 2020).

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic experience, it has become clear that elderly people are the most vulnerable, and the ageing of the population is a serious issue in national governance. Japan should take leadership in international cooperation to cope with the ageing population, based on the policy experience between 1945 and 2022 regarding the welfare and social security system (JICA, 2014), under the concept of ‘human security.’ Human security is an approach to assist member states in identifying and addressing widespread and cross-cutting challenges to the survival, livelihood and dignity of their people (UN, 2012).

Such soft and smart power (Nye JS Jr, 2013) contributions would be acknowledged by countries/areas that may share or may not share universal values. This is distinct from the realm of military defence and is not related to potential national conflicts. This project does not require a huge budget but requires a clear national consensus to use a reasonable budget with skilful human resources and practical knowledge. The Government of Japan’s stance on human security is shown by the speech (MOFA, 2006). Some researchers address that “the Japanese approach, as a medium- to long-term strategy, accentuates a wider variety of human security issues and the deeper causes of human insecurity” (Bosold and Werthes, 2005).

Responding to the ageing of the population leads to the stability of the domestic civilian sector, which is an important factor in national governance. In fact, in the domestic civilian sector, every country/area is worried about how to deal with the ageing of its population. The international cooperation project can be called the “Japan Program for the Well-being of the Ageing Populations (JPWAP),” which comprises four parts, namely, (1) Cooperation in Legislation and Policy-making, (2) Cooperation in Healthcare and Aged Care for the Elderly, (3) Cooperation in Community Business Activities for the Elderly, and (4) Cooperation in Elderly Education in Schools and Communities.

This project is a comprehensive package of the four main training programs for the well-being of the aged populations that are related to various academic areas, such as law, public policy, medicine, nursing, social welfare, gerontology, bioethics, psychology, education, business management and community management. By devising online training and establishing relay training centres in the ASEAN countries, such as Singapore, and the Middle East and North African countries, such as Turkey (Istanbul), it will be possible to expand international cooperation based on these regional training centres as hubs (Sakurai, 2018).

This project comprises two categories, namely, (a) lecture programs for legislation and policy-making and (b) training practice programs for relevant practices. The former response to the several research questions; (i) what kinds of welfare and social security system have been developed in the process from the post-war reconstruction period to the present day of a super-aged society, (ii) what success and failure of the welfare and social security system were experienced, and what lessons Japan learnt from the policy history, and (iii) what legislation and policy-making will be necessary according to the relevant country/area. The lecture programs cover a wide range of welfare and social security system reforms and can be used as a reference for each country’s countermeasures.

The latter comprises various training practice programs by practitioners for the well-being of the ageing populations to cover the welfare and social security practices, including the adult guardianship system, supported decision-making, and elder abuse prevention measures. Adult guardianship systems support decision-making, and elder abuse prevention measures by law are less developed or even not legislated in developing countries/areas. As the population ages and the number of elderly people with dementia increases, these law systems and practices will be important to cope with the ageing of the population. For this project, empowering Japanese practitioners who can communicate in English, such as policy administrators, lawyers, medical doctors, nurses, social workers, schoolteachers, not-for-profit organization (NPO) staff, businesspersons, etc., engaged in ministries, universities, research institutes, medical care/nursing care, schools, NPOs, commercial corporations etc. can be promoted. It is worthwhile to create employment for Japanese people, particularly women and retired elderly people with practical experience, for domestic research and international cooperation to continue long-term activities (Sakurai, 2019).

Third, a review of neoliberalism and its policy is important, which seeks to rely more on the functioning of the market (Schwab, 2020). Neoliberalism is believed to promote more efficient business by the privatization of public sector businesses (i.e., mail, public transportation, healthcare, international airport, port management, etc.). Since the 1980s, Japan has carried out privatization, especially if the move would possibly lead to effective business operations in the concerned sector. Certainly, there are some sectors, such as the national railway sector, which have become successful due to their privatization. The Japanese National Railways (JNR) was divided into six regional passenger railway companies and one freight railway company and privatized. These private companies were launched on April 1, 1987.

However, considering that there are businesses that are familiar with the competition for goods and services and businesses that are not, and there are businesses that need to be operated in every environment. It is also necessary to maintain certain levels of public involvement so that such businesses can continue to thrive even in the event of an emergency. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for public involvement in medical and public health fields has become clear.

In addition, it is known that aged care facilities are basically private businesses with a long-term care (aged care) insurance system, and it is extremely difficult to secure care workers when some of them eventually leave to avoid the risk of infection. Therefore, it is important to maintain a certain number of state-run aged care facilities and/or civil servant care workers in aged care from the viewpoint of securing aged care services (Yuki, 2021). This arrangement will guarantee civil servant care workers to keep their employment long-term. Particularly, most aged care workers who visit elderly homes in Japan are, on average, elderly people aged 60 and over and must be regarded as essential workers (Yuki, 2020). To deal with risks, such as the infectious disease outbreak and natural disasters that may inevitably occur in the future, it is necessary to incorporate some areas of business into the government policy by changing the philosophy of neoliberalism as a general direction.

Fourth, the reconstruction of a society that can respond to multiple societal risks, including infectious disease outbreaks and natural disaster risks, is important. The COVID-19 pandemic is not just a transient event; it had the effect of visibly revealing existing social issues in a short period of time. It is necessary to make effective use of these unique opportunities and prevent society from withstanding all possible risks. This is eligible with the participation of a wide range of fields. Consideration is required on how to tackle the natural disaster case, including earthquakes, in the pandemic situation. An integrated policy is required for managing natural disasters during the pandemic (Ashraf, 2021), which is particularly emphasized in Japan, having a high risk of earthquakes. It is recommended to incorporate the response to risks, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, into primary and secondary school education curricula as a risk learning program and to scientifically research the risk of responses to infectious diseases in higher education and research institutions.

One important in education is the concept of “dignity of risk”, which suggests “the principle of allowing an individual the dignity by affording to risk-taking, with subsequent enhancement of personal growth and quality of life” (Ibrahim and Davis, 2013: 189). Not only safeguarding the risk but also challenging the risk is important within reasonable allowance. It will also be important to encourage commercial corporations and NPOs in civil society to participate in risk management and enact legislation to support their participation.

Fifth, it is important that there is political leadership and freedom of speech to deal with the risk of the COVID-19 pandemic and other risks. In Japan, politicians are often a group of people who ascend office through hereditary succession, but some are ex-bureaucrats, representatives of labour unions or some industry groups, celebrities (in entertainment, sports, etc.), and ex. local parliament members. Hereditary succession is a system that places the highest priority on blood ties and does not necessarily emphasize the abilities of politicians.

Regardless of political beliefs, it may be necessary for talented people with political competence to create a policy system for people like them to become politicians. It is currently unlikely that a talented person will want to become a politician, especially with the instability of the profession where if they lose an election and remove the parliamentary badge, they will become just like every other person. Some measures should be established to encourage talented young people to become politicians. For example, an executive course to foster political leaders with business experience is worthwhile establishing in graduate schools, specializing in knowledge on national security, national budget, public policy, digitalization and so on.

Ensuring that there is freedom of speech that allows people to freely express their thoughts even when they are not politicians is extremely important in the operation of democracy. This is particularly true in a society where everyone can express their thoughts using SNS.


Based on the above-mentioned impacts and settings, a future projection of post-COVID-19 is examined. The following five actions should be executed to ensure a better post-COVID-19 future: (1) Japan should participate in international research activities to envision a future society, (2) it is necessary for Japan to adopt a unique future concept to address declining birth rates, ageing populations, and social security reform and thus to contribute to, (3) a review of neoliberalism, which seeks to rely more on the functioning of the market, (4) construction of a society that can respond to societal risks, including the risk of the COVID-19 pandemic, and (5) political leadership and freedom of speech to deal with the risk of the COVID-19 pandemic and other risks should be championed.

Particularly for action (2) above, an idea of the “Japan Program for the Well-being of the Ageing Populations” is proposed, which will establish steady international cooperation under the concept of “human security.” This concept of human security can overcome the potential conflicts regarding the universal values to contribute to any country that may suffer from an ageing population. It is believed that the spirit of solidarity can be embodied through international cooperation on the common issue of an ageing population in each country.

The future is created by the people, especially younger people, who will lead the next generation. It is important to keep a good balance between generations in society, although the voices of the elderly tend to become bigger as the population ages. In order to achieve it, it would be an idea for younger people to vote in the election, at 18 now but at 16 in the future. Some European countries consider this idea in part because of a good balance of voting population between generations. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a major social challenge, it will present a unique opportunity for leading discussions to activate that future, including a voting age system.


The author is grateful to the 9th Annual Conference on Eurasian Politics & Society (IEPAS2022) held on July 16 2022 – online for reporting the main points of this essay.


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