SGRA Kawaraban (Essay) in English

XIE Zhihai “What we can see in the delay of vaccine development in Japan.”


We greeted the New Year 2021 carrying over global issue “COVID-19”.

A lot of people in Japan, especially in Tokyo, have passed over their New Year holidays worrying about epidemic of infected person, far from being healed from “CORONA fatigue”.

We had plenty of topics relating to CORONA such as epidemic during New Year holidays and the second emergency declaration.  Medical service workers must be tired with chronic fatigue by CORONA and we worry about their mental health too. Recently the news about the number of infected persons is more distinct in Japan rather than the news of vaccination in Europe and America.  


If Japanese pharmaceutical companies could develop corona vaccine first in the world, the news will become a topic and Japanese would have been vaccinated by now. In the last December, vaccine developed by Pfizer (USA) was lifted in London. Around that time, German pharmaceutical company announced their vaccine development. I thought vaguely, at that time, Japanese leading pharmaceutical companies will announce their development and they would commercialize it rather than Japanese people accepting Pfizer or German vaccine. However, we have not heard any news so far.


What happened to Japan?  Japan is a country of craftsmanship and technical developing and there are many leading pharmaceutical companies. But I realized Japanese presence pared down. In Japan, up-and-coming startup is not so distinct and there are few charismatic young Presidents of world-wide reputation. There are a few entrepreneurs who interest me personally. And I began to think that the presence of such charismatic entrepreneurs might drive a country and boost the country morale regardless of the industry.   


Of course, there are Presidents who start business and are active internationally in Japan. For example, Masayoshi Son, Soft Bank Group and Hiroshi Mikitani, who launched Rakuten.

There are many entrepreneurs in overseas. Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba Group in China. Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group in UK, the late Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple  Inc. which has a presence even now in America. Besides those entrepreneurs, Elon Musk, Tesla Motors, is the most prominent President in America now. Mr. Yoshihiko Yamada, ex-Vice President of Panasonic, who has worked with Elon Musk in Tesla Motors for two years, made a severe comment (toward Japanese people) in special issue of the Toyo Keizai titled “Tesla vs. Toyota”, saying that “Not limited to Panasonic, Japanese companies cannot keep up with sense of speed of Tesla. It will be impossible unless there would be charismatic corporate executives or founders.” Yes!  What Japan is lacking is a sense of speed.


Before I explain what Japan is lacking, I convey why Japan is impressive first. Above all, people in Japan wear mask and wash hands properly. It is attractive that public places are clean. The number of infected persons in Japan is much more comparing with other countries.  I think Japan is impactful but lacking in sense of speed. COVID-19 has made everything stagnant. In America and European countries, they are developing vaccines at a terrific speed, despite there are a lot of infected persons. China developed vaccines quickly adding to their drastic infection control measures. Japan is not included in such countries regretfully.


I am not familiar with pharmaceutical industry. But I searched one opinion. Mr. Yasuhiro Fujiwara, the Director General of PMDA (Pharmaceuticals and Medical Devices Agency), opined at the Nikkei-FT (Financial Times) Conference for Infections “In Japan, we cannot do large-scale clinical testing and Japanese weak points were made clear by COVID-19.”

The point is systems. Certification of new medicines is cautious and take long time in Japan. It will be natural, amid unprecedented pandemic of COVID-19, to take time to develop new medicines through conventional procedures. Against CORONA, there should be any exception on priority basis in order to get information about infected persons quickly. I hope they should not give up or slow down development of new medicines.   


What Japan will shine brilliantly “after CORONA” is the people who do not give up their challenging spirits toward something new taking crisis management.  In conclusion, I quote the words by Mr. Uichiro Niwa, ex-Japanese Ambassador to China and ex-Chairman of Itochu Corporation. He said “From now on, there will be something impossible in Japan as if that’s norm. Because of it, you cannot neglect what you can do regardless of age.” It sounds very reasonable. But it was written in 2019, before COVID-19, in the book titled “Shigoto to Kokoro no Ryuugi” (The Style in Business and Heart). And those phrases were quoted from “Donguri no Seikurabe” (Comparison of Stature of Acorn) in which if we compare stature, we will lose jobs. How touching those words were! We have entered a New Year in world-wide chaos. But I hope bright future would wait for us after our efforts.


XIE Zhihai / Associated Professor, Kyoai Gakuen University



SGRA Kawaraban 657 in Japanese (Original)



Translated by Kazuo Kawamura

English checked by Sabina Koirala