For the last couple of weeks, every time I have mentioned that we're going back to the U.S. at the end of June, people here in Japan have expressed concern for our health. "But the swine flu!" "Are you sure you should go back to the U.S.?" "Maybe you should just stay here in Japan." No matter how many times I said to people, "There aren't even that many cases in all of Washington State and it's a big, big place" they were unconvinced.
And now it seems that there's an outbreak here in Osaka. Not just Japan, mind you, but in the Kansai area where we live. Schools are closed. Stores are sold out of face masks. An hour of news last night was dominated almost exclusively by stories about the flu. Truly I'm not sure where the line between caution and hysteria lies, but I'm pretty sure things here are tipping toward hysteria and quickly. Now I won't say there aren't good reasons for that. When you take thousands and thousands of people all crammed into one relatively compact urban area and jam them together on trains and subways and in schools and apartments and offices - well, that's what viruses thrive on.
Still, I confess I'm feeling a little vindicated upon seeing everyone around me suddenly dealing with the reality that it can happen here too. The swine flu isn't just for Mexicans and Americans (which always seemed to me to be the undertone of previous conversations no matter how often I reminded people that SARS happened in Asia). I read an article about the island mentality here in Japan and how it may have caused Japan to be slow to come to the realization that they're not immune and simply looking at foreigners as potential carriers may have been part of the problem.
Looks like we're all in this together.