Recently, during the COVID-19 pandemic, a new Japanese slang term has been coined called “自粛警察 (じしゅくけいさつ, jishuku keisatsu)”, which literally means “self-restraint police”. This post explains what it exactly means, and also what 自粛 (jishuku) refers to during the pandemic in Japan.
What is 自粛 (jishuku)?
自粛 (じしゅく, jishuku) is arguably one of the most frequent Japanese words used during the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning “self-restraint” or “refrain from doing something at one’s own will”. This word has been frequently employed by the government since the outbreak in Japan to “request” its citizens to refrain from going outside and to stay home. Many people argue that what the (local) government has been doing — especially, making a list of the pachinko parlours that continued to operate, with an intention to crucify them —is not quite jishuku, as it is meant to be “self-restraint”. However, this is presumably the only way to impose the quasi-lockdown in Japan due to its current law and Constitution, which was altered dramatically after World War II to protect individual freedom.
What is 自粛警察 (jishuku keisatsu)?
自粛警察 (じしゅくけいさつ, jishuku keisatsu), also known as 自粛ポリス (jishuku.porisu), is a brand new slang term that literally means “self-restraint police”. It ironically describes people who conduct a “patrol” scrupulously online or offline, and revile people or organisations that do not exercise jishuku, or “self-restraint”. Their typical “duties” are to report and shame ill-behaviour of people or shops in public (e.g., not wearing a mask, travelling from one prefecture to another, or opening one’s shops), which goes as far as to call the emergency number, put up notes on their storefronts, or troll their social media account. Obviously, these extreme behaviour of the sanctimonious jishuku keisatsu are irrational and even illegal, and cannot be justified by any means.
On the flip side, however, these kinds of monitoring activities somewhat reflect the national traits of Japanese people: keeping an eye on each other and being sensitive to how they are viewed by others; and that may have potentially contributed to Japan’s enigmatic (provisional) success in containing the pandemic despite the lack of the strong lockdown and restrictions imposed in many other countries.