Photo/Illutration A worker mops the floor of a retail store at a shopping center in Tokyo on Aug. 17. (AP Photo)

Various terms are used to define human beings.

"Homo sapiens," Latin for "wise man," is also the scientific name for human beings. And when the emphasis is placed on the human ability to make objects, the term is "homo faber" or "man the maker."

Dutch historian Johan Huizinga (1872-1945), who focused on the concept of play as quintessential to humanity, coined the term "homo ludens" or "man the player."

According to his seminal 1938 work "Homo Ludens," the element of play is not a component of culture, but rather that the element of play was what generated human culture.

Huizinga pointed out that religious rituals, music, poetry and other such manifestations of culture were deeply rooted in play.  

The sharp drop in Japan's real GDP for the April-June period from the previous quarter, representing the greatest contraction in post-World War II history, reminds me acutely of the magnitude of play as a factor that impacts the national economy.

The latest phenomenon is attributable to a drastic decline in personal consumption, which accounts for more than 50 percent of GDP.

Since the surest way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 infections is to stay home, people have simply refrained from leisure activities, such as dining out and anything else that could fall into the category of play.

I myself realize how long I've abstained from "izakaya" pubs, movie theaters and live music clubs and refrained from going on short holiday trips. Small wonder that these acts of self-restraint haven't helped the economy.  

Whatever form it takes, luxury or extravagance creates jobs and keeps the economy ticking. The first person to point that out was British philosopher Bernard Mandeville (1670-1733).

In his satirical poem titled "The Fable of The Bees: or, Private Vices, Publick Benefits," Mandeville wrote to the effect that "extravagance hired 1 million destitute people ..." And he went on to define extravagance in food, furniture and clothing as "the wheel that turns commerce."

In this day and age, it is the little luxuries of the common folk that stimulate the economy, not the splurging by aristocrats and billionaires as in the past. 

I have a long list of things I want to do after the COVID-19 pandemic is over, but they are of no use for the time being.

The government's role in stemming any further deterioration of the job market has never been more important than now.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 18

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.