This time a yr in the past, Yuji Kuroiwa, the governor of Japan’s Kanagawa prefecture, tried some mild wordplay within the face of a terrifying new illness, financial spasm and life-changing strictures. 

The usually joyous early-Might “golden week” of nationwide holidays, he prompt, ought to be rebranded “gaman week” for 2020 — a reference to Japan’s cherished high quality of stolid, uncomplaining perseverance. A yr later, with golden week 2021 about to start out, infections rising, the nation in a renewed state of emergency and fewer than 3 per cent of Japan’s population receiving the primary vaccine dose, Kuroiwa rolled the same gag out for a second time.

After 12 months of counting on the general public to maintain Covid-19 at bay with self-restraint, the repeated demand for extra unflinching endurance — of gaman with out seen endgame — feels a a lot heavier imposition. It will maybe really feel much less so, say Japanese mates, if the authorities weren’t concurrently touting their dedication to permit many hundreds of athletes and their groups to enter the nation for the Olympics, whereas providing no agency goal for vaccinating the final inhabitants. 

This strained environment is creating an ethical dilemma for these leaders of Japan’s extra globalised firms who’re determined to get again on the highway (or the private jet). The capability for gaman counts among the many nation’s deepest pure assets: each private and non-private sectors lean on it consistently. However debates on Japanese social media reveal an indignation that the shop has been overdrawn, relatively than handled as valuable and finite. Given this stress, say the CEOs of a number of of Japan’s largest firms, enterprise leaders are torn over whether or not they need to get vaccinated exterior the nation and sneak right into a gaman-exempt elite. 

The motivation to take action is severe. For the previous few years, many Japanese firms have determined that one of the best development choices lie exterior the nation. The calculation is predicated on Japan’s shrinking inhabitants, however firms have additionally perceived an distinctive window for abroad dealmaking during which traders are actively pushing them to lift returns on fairness and Chinese language rivals are (for now) much less globally acquisitive.

The outcome has been a boom in overseas acquisitions that was, pre-pandemic, producing a median of about $23bn of deals per quarter. In a comparatively brief house of time, that has left quite a lot of Japanese firms — from insurers to brewers — with intensive world enterprise empires and a urgent must patrol them in particular person.

The issue with all this acquisition is that it was undertaken with what have been as soon as affordable assumptions about how the brand new property can be built-in. Not solely would substantial numbers of Japanese executives go to the acquired operations and report again, however there would usually be a number of journeys by the CEO and his senior management group within the months following the deal.

Japanese patrons usually intention to maintain the administration of a goal below shut remark put up acquisition — a scrutiny that relies on pre-pandemic mobility and which executives deem unimaginable through Zoom. The shock go to to far-flung corners of their empires, a number of CEOs have grumbled in current weeks, is a sorely-missed administration weapon. 

Enterprise leaders confronting this now fall into two camps. One (notably these with acquisitions within the US) is actively pursuing schemes to get vaccinated overseas (or to spirit vaccines again residence for private use) and permit instant journey.

Initially of the yr, when Japan’s vaccination programme appeared much more distant, home media reported in scandalised tones that the heads of “a few of Japan’s most well-known firms” had managed to safe vaccines from China.

One CEO of one among Japan’s largest family names was not a part of that scheme, however finds it simple to justify: hundreds of staff depend on him to run the empire to one of the best of his skill, and receiving a vaccine sooner is critical to that finish.

However a number of CEOs within the second camp, additionally operating companies with current abroad acquisitions, stated the thought was unthinkable. Regardless of the short-term benefits of greedy months of head begin on a sluggish vaccine programme, the hit to repute — as a pacesetter unable to gaman — can be irreparable. 

The heads of Japanese enterprise, one tells me, exist in a realm the place, for all their revered elevation, should have an effect on to share the quiet endurance of their employees — particularly when a gaman useful resource that after appeared in such ample nationwide provide is being known as upon to hold everybody by a second, dismal golden week.

leo.lewis@ft.com