After going around Dojo Park in Tsukuba for our morning exercise, my son Leon and I dropped by Couronne, a bakeshop popular with the locals, to have a light breakfast.
Photo Insert: Japan in springtime
They offered unlimited coffee there, so we bade our time. We sat at the table outside, in the sun. It was eight degrees Celsius this early spring, and the wind was bitingly cold.
It occurred to me, while watching people come and go, that there was no way in Japan to tell the rich from the poor.
All who came in are dressed in the latest fashion, and fashion is on full display in springtime.
Their complexion, without exception, has a healthy glow, an indication that they are well-nourished and well-fed. They all came in cars too, all mid-sized and Japan-made: Toyota, Honda, Mitsubishi. No Porche, Mercedes Benz, and other imported luxury cars. No way can you tell their status in life by the car they drive around with.
From what I can gather, most Japanese belong to what we conveniently call the middle class. There are very few who fall at the extreme ends of the economic scale: the rich and the poor.
When Leon and his wife Rachel were starting a family after attending the University of Tsukuba as Mombusho scholars, they had to live in a government housing project built by the local government for low-income families, single mothers, and seniors.
Never did they feel deprived, however. Their two-story apartment had both hot and cold water. There was a playground and the entire walkway around the neighborhood served as a bicycle lane for the children. The school—elementary and secondary—were a walking distance away, as were the grocery store and the bank.
The children ate well and they dressed according to the season like everybody else.
What piqued my interest though is the country’s health care system. When one of Leon’s daughters was hospitalized, the family paid only 600 yen, the equivalent of P300, for the room, doctor’s fee, and medicines.
Nothing was seriously wrong about her, but if she was suffering from, say, leukemia or some other life-threatening illness, the family would not have been required to pay more, and that was when they had already fallen under the middle-income bracket, which by the way made them ineligible for subsidized housing.
They have built their own house since, and there is an interesting story behind that too. I don’t know if this is true in all of Japan, but in Tsukuba, families can buy a lot to build a house on only if they have been residents of the city for at least ten years, probably to prevent speculation, what real estate companies in the Philippines call investment as a come-on.
That serves as a cap to the price of land, making it easier for people to build their own houses.
My son and his wife built their house, a two-story, three-bedroom affair, on a 200 square meter lot with very minimal down payment.
Now, to go back to the health care system topic. My other son, Omar, a Quezon City resident, had to shell out P30,000 for the stainless steel implant doctors at the Philippine Orthopedics Hospital used to reinforce his two fingers that he accidentally cut with a grinder.
While at the hospital, he saw a boy of seven or eight in agony because of a broken arm, so bad that the bone was protruding out of the skin. The doctor in attendance said he could not perform the operation unless the mother buy the necessary stainless steel implant, which costs around P16,000 or so.
The mother didn’t have that kind of money, so the doctor turned mother and son away. They went back to the hospital ground, where they had been staying since they arrived from somewhere in the Visayas the past few days, and the boy was enduring the pain all that time.
He is only one of the thousands, nay, millions of men, women, and children whose plight the government ignores. Elected officials have a program ostensibly to help people in need, but they balked at paying for medical interventions that cost thousands. The poor are thus left to their own devices.
The officials want to spread their allocation, seized from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes, to as many voters as possible, thus ensuring their re-election. Fixing the health care dysfunction--and society’s ills—are the furthest from their minds.