27 April 2020 Blogs

Alone Together: Coronavirus Around the World (Japan)

The world has never been so united, even if that uniting force is isolation. This post is part of a series created by CultureGrams editors that features first-hand accounts of the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on individuals in different countries

Today's installment is written by Andrew, a man who lives in Yokohama, Japan.

I'll be the first to admit that my finger was far from the pulse when this whole COVID-19 thing first started. At that time my world revolved around finding a new job, thus my eye had wandered from international news.

The first time it even became a hiccup in my everyday life was when my mother told me she had decided not to visit me in Japan due to this wee bug going around. Granted, this was going to be her first time ever visiting after many false hopes and one impromptu foray to Italy instead (I’m not bitter). In retrospect she made the right choice; it's also good she didn't go to Italy either this time.

Japan and Italy aside, I am American and an educator. Though I've never been to the home of the Roman Empire, I have lived in Japan for over four years now. From roughly halfway around the world, I watched as the United States descended into madness as that bug became an absolute nightmare. Through frequent chats with my friends and family back home, it wasn't long until the trends here became all too parallel. By the time I had found my new job and had relocated, coronavirus had made its presence on the global stage.

Despite masks and toilet paper being impossible to find for a bit, the parallels end when it comes to the response to this pandemic. Friends and family in the States had already been quarantined for about a month or so by the time Prime Minister Shinzō Abe publicly addressed Japan on April 7th.

From then to now (mid-April), some restaurants have closed or become take-out only and pachinko (Japanese pinball) parlors, karaoke establishments, and various other businesses have closed as well. For the most part though, it seems that the average businessperson is still going to work everyday. I am hearing of more and more situations where people are working from home or going to work every other day.

However, COVID-19 cases are still rising every day. The 2020 Summer Olympics were postponed and a shadow looms over the economy. People fear that the economy is the true reason quarantine has yet to happen here. The Japanese plan for combating coronavirus is three-fold: 3密 in Japanese 密閉 (Mippei, closed spaces) 密集 (Misshu, crowded places) 密接 (Missetsu, close contact). In Japanese, this plan is referred to as the three M’s (mippei, misshu, and missetsu), or in English the three C’s (closed spaces, crowded places, and close contact).

These make sense and are just another aspect of social distancing. What I personally enjoy about this (and by "enjoy" I mean am terrified of) is the lovely venn-diagram of maximum contagion. So all we need to do is avoid closed spaces with a lot of people who are close together or as I like to call: trains.

Maybe it is the American in me, but personally I do not feel like enough is being done. If I want to, I can still go grocery shopping or go to a convenience store, still hop on a train and go into a major city, still go into a mall and eat at the food court, and still can go into a McDonalds and dine in until 8pm. These eateries have posted "social distancing" signs and have disinfectant spray at the entrances, but it's still a gamble to eat at these places. Despite me talking about McDonalds, Japanese are generally healthier than Americans. This means a whole lot of eldery folk which makes the whole Coronovirus thing a whole lot scarier.

Unlike in the states, Japan’s school year starts in early April. As of the middle of February, students in coronavirus-heavy areas have not been going to school. It first started with a two-week hiatus, but as of now students across all of Japan will not be seeing their classrooms until May 7th. This means students did not have graduation or welcoming ceremonies and have not officially started the new school year yet. While some schools have adapted online remote teaching, the new school year has made that far more difficult to establish.

I did remote teaching for the last two weeks of my previous job. While hesitant at first, I have to say it was far more effective and rewarding than I ever imagined. The school I was working at was incredibly fast to launch the online program, as they treated coronavirus quite seriously from the start.

Transitioning jobs during this pandemic has been far from optimal though. My "few weeks off sabbatical" has turned into a period of anxiety. Between getting a new job, finding an apartment, moving into said apartment, and ending the lease on the previous one, there was a lot of train travel through Tokyo--again, not ideal.

Though now that I'm settled in, I consider myself very fortunate to a) have an incredible patient and understanding girlfriend and to b) to be working for such an understanding new team. Every day the world’s stage shifts. As the cases increase every day, I constantly wonder if Japan will initiate a quarantine lock-down like many countries have already. Will my first new class start on May 7th? When will I see my friends and family face-to-face again? When will the world recover? Will I start remembering what day it is again? Hard to say. In my lifetime, I have never seen such a prolonged calamity as this one.

Regardless of where you are in the world, when this fiasco ends we will have to respond to do our best to prevent either a round or two or to prevent another pandemic from happening like this again. After all, humans always learn from past catastrophes . . . right?