Generally, when Japanese lecturers choose the one written character that greatest captures the essence of the 12 months passed by, there are surprises. In 2020, there might solely be one selection: mitsu, which means “shut”, “intimate” or “dense”. 

The choice attests to a phrase whose utilization has been recast by Covid-19. Practically a 12 months into the pandemic, the method of that recasting has been very important. It locations Japan in a gaggle with Taiwan, South Korea, Vietnam and China, as theories kind in regards to the societal elements that may have contributed to holding their an infection and demise charges comparatively low.

Early within the disaster, as governments strained to search out public well being methods that had the magic mixture of being coherent and achievable, Tokyo began urging people to concern and keep away from three mitsu — close-contact settings, tightly packed crowds and confined environments.

The slogan proved linguistically and socially potent. A phrase that had beforehand conveyed a heat and intimate sense of closeness instantly implied one thing claustrophobic and abhorrent. Whereas public well being messaging by different nations was often ruinously contorted, mitsu was a triumph. It merely categorized the most important dangers after which guessed (for probably the most half appropriately) {that a} society already disposed to producing and self-policing new guidelines would just do that.

Buyers, recommend analysts at Nomura Securities in an uncommon report entitled “Self-discipline delivers”, ought to view the success as a purpose for a wholesale reassessment of regional threat.

The report makes an attempt to border Japan’s response to the pandemic (together with these of different Asian nations the place deaths per million have been low) with a distinction between “tight” and “unfastened” cultures of individualism versus collectivism. To do that, joint head of Asia Pacific fairness analysis, Jim McCafferty, and his colleagues drew on a placing breadth of sociological, anthropological and psychological scholarship.

Conservative attitudes in Asian societies, the report concludes, “are mirrored within the behaviours of listed firms and governments”. As end-of-year fairness analysis studies go, it is a brave solution to punt shares.

The report begins with the premise that Covid-19 administration methods in Asia have usually had a greater document of success than in different elements of the world, notably the US and UK. For a begin, it seems on the background to Taiwan’s effective containment of the virus with out resorting to a national lockdown.

In 2003, when Taiwan was hit by the Sars outbreak, complacency and dismissal of pointers led to panic and hoarding. Within the wake of that, argues Ming-Cheng Lo on the College of California, the disaster was “societalised”. The issue was reinterpreted as a societal disaster. When Covid-19 arrived, there was nonetheless a powerful nationwide reminiscence that these threats needed to be handled as a society. An analogous phenomenon adopted South Korea’s expertise with Mers in 2015.

Probably the most essential metrics to elucidate cultural variations in social behaviour is the variation within the stability between individualism and collectivism. Japan, Hong Kong, China and South Korea sit on the collective finish of the size, whereas most western nations are additional in the direction of the individualistic finish. Collectivist societies — the place unwritten guidelines typically carry important weight — are regarded as extra conformist and subsequently higher at fixing issues like a pandemic.

A excessive diploma of conformity, the report notes, is the primary purpose why Asian societies behave in a extra orderly approach than these within the west: people cede higher significance to the group and the clan has a powerful energy of regulation of individuals’s behaviour.

A remaining commentary highlights the idea of cultural “tightness” and “looseness” that displays the facility of social norms — such because the carrying of masks or the avoidance of mitsu — and the way societies go about sanctioning them. A 33-nation survey performed by psychologist Michele Gelfand produced nationwide “tightness scores” primarily based on how applicable individuals in a given nation felt sure behaviours (laughing, kissing, arguing and so forth) had been in numerous contexts (in libraries, at funerals, on buses). China, Singapore, South Korea and Japan rating extremely.

Nomura’s report brings all this, screechingly however plausibly, again to equities. The Asian response to the pandemic ought to pose a lot harder questions on whether or not the nation threat premiums at present utilized by world fund managers (which give the next rating to China and Japan than to the UK and France) are nonetheless legitimate, says Mr McCafferty. If a phrase like mitsu can change its which means in a single day, what else is likely to be due a re-rating?

leo.lewis@ft.com