Media Mix, April 26, 2020

Here’s this week’s Media Mix about reviving the discussion of decentralizing government and financial functions in Tokyo as the COVID-19 crisis reveals how vulnerable Japan is when everything is concentrated in the same place. The argument for decentralization has two compelling points here. Concentration of these functions makes it more difficult to self-isolate and carry out physical distancing measures in a bid to alleviate the spread of the virus; and the attendant disruption of business-as-usual becomes more acute when everybody is in the same place, especially in the case of the public sector, which should be coordinating an effective response to the crisis.

The point about hair grooming businesses at the end is offered with tongue in cheek. The Huffington Post article that brought up the matter was essentially looking at one industry whose very nature is directly affected by physical distancing, since cutting hair requires close contact between service provider and customer. Consequently, the barbers interviewed in the piece are of two minds—they have been trying to address the circumstances of their profession in order to minimize infection vectors, mainly by incorporating stringent disinfectant practices and scaling back on patrons. But they know that there is only so much they can do in their particular situation, and at least one of them believes barbershops should be closed and business owners compensated in some ways by the government. In a sense, she’s actually angry that the central government declared barbershops and hair salons in Tokyo “essential services” because that means if she closes her shop voluntarily for the good of her community, she has to take a loss in income. If the government ordered her to close, they would, logically, at least, be expected to provide subsidies.

The Huffington Post makes a comic jab at the LDP in its headline for the article, which says, in effect, “Politicians, are you really going to go to your barber now?” What this says to me is that Diet members are still in the public eye and therefore need to keep up appearances, so when they say that hair cutting services are essential, they mean for themselves. From what I understand, there are dedicated barber shops in Kasumigaseki and Nagatacho that cater only to government people, be they elected officials or bureaucrats. As I said in the column, the LDP has not insisted on keeping barber shops open in other cities, so the focus on Tokyo becomes a bit more suspicious. We wouldn’t want any cabinet members walking around with fly-away pompadours and unruly ear hair.

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