Hello. This is Nan Yamada in Japan, where I’ve lived, mostly, since 1973. Joyce and I went to high school together and recently have been back in touch, even Zooming with another classmate in Massachusetts. Joyce asked about life with the virus in Japan so here goes, at least regarding my corner of Tokyo.
A State of Emergency (SoE) was declared on April 7 but this is not a lockdown. People are requested to stay home and businesses to close or shorten their hours. The SoE was lifted the other day for many areas but not Tokyo and the surrounding prefectures. As of yesterday evening’s news, there have been 16,249 reported cases of corona infection and 727 deaths among a population of 126,476,461. So it looks as though something is working, though the low rate of testing is a factor. That something is not the dithery government of Prime Minister Abe (who calls Trump his good friend – really they are two of a kind). Abe’s solution to the shortage of masks was to send 2 substandard masks to every household and wear one himself, while everyone around him is wearing good ones. Nearly everyone is wearing a mask – this and other aspects of Japanese culture have played a big part.
People here are not mask-aversive – they have always worn them when they have allergies or colds and when the darn yellow dust blows over from China. The Japanese greet each other with a bow most of the time, sometimes shake hands but never hug and kiss, air- or otherwise, in public. Surely this has helped contain the virus. They are also really good at self-restraint; jisshuku, or self-restraint, has been a catchword especially since the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear disaster in 2011 and people do stay home and follow guidelines. A few exceptions are surfers and aficionados of pachinko – a particularly mind-numbing form of automatic pinball. I wonder what these two groups have in common.
For me, socializing via Zoom has been great. I am retired and glad not to be worrying about work, but all my activities – Tea ceremony, flute ensemble and swimming are on hold. It’s hard to imagine anything more dangerous than people sitting on the floor in a small room and passing a teabowl from one to another or 20 flutists in a closed room all blowing away. I wish I could swim by Zoom, but failing that I do walk in the neighborhood.
My neighborhood is an interesting place. It’s in central Tokyo with access to anywhere on public transportation (trains, busses and subway all rattling around empty now); walking distance to the library, museums, universities, gazillions of stores and restaurants, sports facilities, theaters (all closed), large park (open but not the ice cream stand), several famous shrines (go-to-able), and quiet residential streets. It is considered OK to go out walking or jogging. I’ll introduce a couple of spots affected by corona.
First is the area around Harajuku station. This is a mecca for tourists and teeny boppers. You can barely make your way forward through the crowd normally – google “Takeshita Street” to see what “normal” looked like. Here is a photo taken the other day:
This new construction replaced an eyesore and had been underway for a long time. We were eager to see who the tenants would be. Lo and behold! another UniQlo! Not really too surprising; there seems to be an ordinance that there must be one every few hundred meters. Plus, given the clientele of the area, it makes sense. But Ikea? Other outlets are in the far burbs with ample parking and you haul your furniture home. Having one in the central city reflects a changing demographic: young folks living in the city instead of taking the long commute in to work. Both stores were to open last month (April is the start of the fiscal, school and work years, i.e. moving time). But as you see, both stores are still wrapped in plastic behind the empty bus stop. No tourists or teeny boppers and very few people setting up house with the virus around.
While starting a job or school year under the cherry blossoms is the tradition, there is talk of moving the new school year to September, in line with the rest of the world. But this would cause a major change in graduation and hiring schedules and would be truly revolutionary; only the virus can bring it about, now or never, some think, including Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike (a woman).
So, on to the second location, also walking distance from home.
This is the new National Stadium, built for the 2020 Olympics. It also replaces an eyesore but looks lonely there with no traffic and no events. Like others, my husband and I had been looking forward to the whole thing (Japanese people love nothing more than a festival). Unlike many, many others, we had scored some tickets to good events and were excited to be going to the stadium. But … pfft, as you know. There is no word on whether tickets will ever be usable and a lot of the venues are already booked for 2021 and beyond. The disappointment is nothing compared to the athletes’ of course, but still….
That’s about it from me. Everyone please stay safe!