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The Virus, the Body and the Mind

By Keisuke Harada

COVID-19 ruthlessly invades even the healthiest of bodies. The pandemic has caused both physical and mental distress that affects us daily. It has also taught us the importance of health, albeit the hard way. If this chaos had a legacy, it would be how it compelled us to rethink our place in this world—and the physical and mental aspects of our existence.

Coronavirus forces us to coexist remotely to reduce its spread. A global trend is the expansion and prevalence of online activities. It is time to shed light on remote tools and extend their functions to save our economies. Many television broadcasts have also moved online; they use tools such as Skype and Zoom to report news. Companies, too, have moved online. But the coronavirus has also revealed obstacles to remote work such as the hanko culture—Japan’s culture of using stamps instead of signatures. The pandemic can catalyze change in the working culture.

On the other hand, reports of mental health-related issues have increased due to governors’ requests for people to stay home. Already a month into the isolation, the situation is worsening daily—and loneliness becomes prevalent. In addition, there is much uncertainty and society is still in chaos. Our culture, which enriches our lives and contributes to our peace, joy and mental health, is also under threat. Global sports events and international conferences have been postponed or cancelled—and the prospect for economic recovery is grim due to the cancellations.

Such crises reveal how much we have relied on in-person engagements in our daily lives. Although many people are finding alternatives to engage with society and connect with people such as through Skype and Zoom, for many of us, such alternatives simply don’t click. This is not to say that virtual tools are boring. However, television programs and people who appear remotely seem unnatural and surreal. Thus, our sense of reality becomes distorted, and we lose touch with authenticity. For example, physical activities, including writing, are irreplaceable and invaluable. According to Hiroshi Yoshioka, professor of Kyoto University, the process of “writing” always included feedback to our bodies, especially to our fingers (“Style and Information”). Writing and other physical activities help us engage our five senses. This pandemic makes us appreciate modern technology; however, it also reminds us of the importance of non-digital activities and human contact.

Tuitions have also sparked debate. Academic institutions now fear losing a substantial portion of students in fall 2020. Even under such circumstances, institutions should consider waiving—and at least reducing—tuitions, for they serve multiple purposes. They cover costs both in and out of the classroom, including social engagements and housing. The situation is an opportunity for students to check how institutions such as colleges manage budgets, and to assess and understand what the students are paying. In addition, moving classes online has reminded students the importance and value of on-campus learning and student life are ideal. Colleges are a blend of academics and in-person activities outside the classroom.

Although this pandemic has brought many tragedies, it has also shown us life’s many facets: the physical and mental as well as our virtual and in-person activities. I feel relatively lucky and privileged during this crisis; however, I am not alone in this thought. Many people remain optimistic even amid this pandemic; we are connected all the more. Although the pandemic has paused the economy and materialistic exchanges, we—as people—remain resilient.

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