I’ve held back on posting anything recently because, adding to the lack of motivation and inspiration that I currently feel, I just didn’t know what I could possibly add to the COVID-19 pandemic conversation. Feeling isolated, helpless, scared, bored, depressed – show me someone who hasn’t felt one of these (or all five) in the last hour. But since the situation in Japan is a bit different from pretty much everywhere, I thought it was worth to put this out there.
I managed to make it until April 10th before I finally broke down.
2 months of a mounting situation here in Japan, 1 month of watching all of my friends and family being affected by lockdowns, 10 days of unemployment, 5 days in self-quarantine in Kanazawa after fleeing Tokyo.
Don’t get me wrong, I have felt like crying many times. When watching everything get canceled, when reading friends’ posts on Facebook, when hearing stories of heroism and goodness under terrible and trying situations. And it’s possible that I did cry a little from time to time.
The cry on the morning of April 10th, however, was a full-blown, snot-filled, body-shaking breakdown. A classic good cry.
It was over the weekend when my boss suggested that I think about leaving Tokyo. “But if you’re going to do it, do it soon, tomorrow or Monday,” she said. This was Saturday, April 4th. “Next week there will probably be a shutdown in Tokyo.”
I admit, I was initially resistant. Yes, her offer was generous, and yes, it would be safer, but some part of me didn’t want to give up my apartment in Tokyo. It was my space, my sanctuary, and I felt like if there was a lock down I would rather be comfortable, surrounded by my things. But the more I thought about it, I realized that I would have far more freedoms in Kanazawa, and even with my personal effects and creature comforts I would be trapped by staying. What was the point of staying in Tokyo if I couldn’t live my best Tokyo life?
So at 17:00 on Sunday I packed, successfully caught my first ever Uber in Tokyo, and was on the 19:24 to Kanazawa. (An aside about my Uber driver: really interesting man. Born in China but half Japanese, he moved here when he was 13. He also spent some time in Alabama, so he is trilingual, which probably is a huge asset to working as a driver in Tokyo. Anyway.) I wondered who else would even be on that train? Others trying to escape the city for the countryside pre-lockdown? But no, it appeared to be mostly business people either going on or returning from business trips.
So now I’m back in Kanazawa, in the same apartment building that I used to live in, but not the same unit. It kind of feels like I’m camping. I tried to sleep on the floor but the futon was too thin; I tried to sleep on the convertible couch but that was too uncomfortable. Somehow Past Me survived sleeping on that thing for two years, but Present Day, Tokyo Me has become accustomed to a real bed. I ordered an air mattress off Amazon. Camping indeed.
I’m self-quarantining for two weeks, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t go out by myself. So it was easy to fall back into one of my favorite past times here: going on long walks. I’ve been revisiting some of my favorite walks by the Asano river. Yesterday I walked all the way to Higashi-Chaya, one of the historic tea house districts, and stopped for a look around. It was a ghost town, almost completely empty, with perhaps 90% of the businesses shuttered. This had always been the single most crowded, touristy place in town. It was eerie.
I haven’t worked since the end of March. I’m currently waiting to get government unemployment assistance. I attempt to fill my days with some freelance writing, reading, and plucking on the ukulele, but I admit, my motivation and inspiration are low. I’m not a person that enjoys unemployment. Some days are better, some days are worse. This morning was worse. I’m really struggling with the isolation. Being an extrovert in Japan, an introvert’s paradise, has always been a little difficult. Under the current circumstances, it’s complete shit.
As for the situation in Tokyo, my boss was right, sort of. This week, Abe declared a state of emergency, but due to the laws in Japan the government can’t actually enforce a strict lockdown like in many other countries. They can only ask local governments to request that people stay home, can only request that companies close or switch to remote working, can only request that schools close. The whole thing is so Japanese. As this is a situation that has been slowly building for months, it feels like too little, too late.
I feel like I should end this on a more positive note, something like “But it could get so much worse” or “I should check my privilege” or “At least I have my health”. Which is all true. There are things to look forward to, there are things to be thankful for. Just gotta keep on keeping on, and sometimes you just gotta stop and have yourself a good cry.
Happy Travels, but Stay the Fuck at Home,