You all right over there?

I’m going to talk about the past year and a half, so if you’re not interested in something that is related to current events, you might want to skip this post.

The background

Back in January 2020, I had a voice chat with a good friend of mine. He expressed concern about this virus that had been on the news in China, and told me to be careful. I reassured him that I would be fine, and considered the conversation done.

Now, having finally gotten my 2nd Moderna jab just a few days ago, I’m looking back at that conversation somewhat ruefully.

Everyone has had a time of it since then.

But what has it been like to be a single adult white foreigner in Japan since the start of the pandemic? I would like to share my personal experience, in hopes of connecting with other people who might have had similar issues or would like to tell me how their past 18 months differed.

My choices

Back in February 2020 as the news of the virus spread, I made a conscious decision to stop going to cafes and restaurants. “I might not be at the movie theater for a while,” I thought, munching on popcorn as I watched a movie at the theater. Don’t ask me what movie it was, because to be honest I have no recollection. Something about a music contest someone recommended to me, I think. “I wonder if it’ll be safe to do this,” I wondered as I walked through a busy mall that I wouldn’t go into again for at least a year.

I stopped going to restaurants. Movie theaters. Museums. Bookstores. Karaoke, which used to be a weekly go-to stress reliever. I also stopped public transportation as much as possible, only going on it for work-related trips. Grocery runs cut back to strictly once a week, with the occasional run to a drug store to pick up necessities there instead. Convenience stores existed purely to pay bills at. Forget about concerts or stage shows- I kept my April 15th ticket for a showing of Anastasia the musical for months on my bulletin board before I finally tossed it. Amusement parks? Ha, that’s a good one.

…And I withdrew from taiko, because an insulated room full of grandparents seemed like a perfect place for an illness like Covid to strike.

Those were my personal choices to make. Everyone has their own relative views on safety, and during the pandemic, that’s no exception. But I decided that in my free time, I would stay home or choose somewhere outdoors to relax.

We’ve had several States of Emergency over the past year and a half, which affected my options for going out even more. SoEs meant parks, including the Botanical Garden in Kyoto, to be closed, for example.

At the start of it all, friends opted for video calls instead of our usual weekly cafe meetups. Bit by bit, the number of people I regularly talked to on video call dropped off to a few. Some people got burned out from all the Zooming; others just fell out of touch.

And amidst it all, I went to work, came home, cooked dinner, slept, woke up, and went to work again.

The effects

I’ve always been an introvert. Staying at home felt like a relief for a couple of weeks. And talking to friends online? Fantastic, I was doing that in my off-time, anyhow.

But the change-up in my personal schedule hit me, especially in summer 2020.

No karaoke. No fireworks shows. No Gion Festival. No JLPT test. No trips out of Kansai, hell, not even a trip out of Kyoto prefecture to refresh my mind.

There’ve been some silver linings to it all. I’ve written a lot of stuff I likely won’t show anyone. I’ve edited things I hope to show people in the future. I’ve gotten closer to friends who live far away. I’ve caught up on a couple TV shows and movies I’ve always meant to watch, but never had the time or energy for. I’ve read books that have been sitting on my shelves for ages, patiently waiting for me to have the brain space for a new story.

And I’ve tried new things. New recipes, of course, to give myself enrichment. I’ve picked up drawing as a hobby, learning how to draw people in particular (though I hope to expand that to animals and nature in the future; maybe even… backgrounds??).

Most notably on this blog, as I’m sure you’re aware, I’ve been radio silent. How can one talk about Japan now, without delving into the politics? Without looking at the one guy who said, “Japan is handling the virus better because Japanese people are inherently better”? Without looking at the botched up release of the vaccines? The tampering of said vaccines? The refusal to do any serious contact tracing? The cost of getting tested, because unless you’re considered a close contact (and you won’t be, 95% of the time), you’re paying 20,000 yen at least to have someone check you? The hospitals?

…You get my point. That’s a whole rant and if you live in Japan, you know, already. If you don’t, and if you’re interested in all of that, maybe that’s a blog post for another day.

So, what happens now?

As of writing this post, we’re at roughly 45% of Japanese residents being fully vaccinated (source: Reuters) . It’s a lot better than what it was even two months ago. But at the same time, people are getting tired of wearing masks everywhere. More and more folks are wearing masks halfheartedly on their chins, or not bothering with them at all. Social distancing is a buzzword said while cramming yourself into a busy train at 8am.

So, to be honest, not much.

I would like to visit some places in the area I haven’t been to since pre-pandemic. Arashiyama. Ohara. Fushimi. Maybe even venture a little into Osaka or Nara prefectures. But I plan to go before rush hour, double masked.

I will continue avoiding restaurants, but maybe I’ll opt for some takeout.

Three productive things I would like to get done, however, are :

  1. Talking more about Kyoto Cryptids (we’re working on volume 2! Check out the blog for more details as it comes out!)
  2. Studying Japanese and reading more books in Japanese. I’m currently reading the Japanese version of Bungou Stray Dogs: Untold Origins of the Detective Agency.
  3. Getting more of my own original work out, whether it be on this blog or elsewhere. I’m currently working on a nonfiction travel novella focused on the many bizarre and delightful interactions I’ve had with people around the world. I’m tentatively calling it Connections Made but I hope to come up with a cooler title in the near future.

So there you have it. A lot of bad, some good.

What have you been doing? How have you kept yourself mentally and emotionally going (if not stable) through all this? What would you be interested in reading in a travel novella? What are you reading right now, yourself?

2 thoughts on “You all right over there?

  1. Hi Stephanie, great post. There are many differences as well as parallels to your experiences in Kyoto and Japan with that of other places. Like here in Sydney, Australia in our 10th week of strict lockdown.

    But we both can look positively I hope to being able to sit at our favorite local cafes, go to Museums and enjoy art galleries. Soon I hope.

    I suppose I was’t to know from here everything about Japan, however I am surprised to hear that you have to pay for a COVID check, and the lack of a true contact tracing system. Both of which I would have assumed would be in place in Japan.

    You express well the changes that have happened recently with our social connections.

    Anyway, I love Japan. I reckon I have one long trip back, probably on my own. I am a bit anal with planning, really over planning. So a couple of places you mentioned, I have added to my future wish list which I already way too long.

    Ireland, again, is the other trip that I am over planning with my wife.

    BTW, I can relate to your teaching issues. My wife is still teaching, I am recently retired

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi there, Tony, thank you for your comment! I do hope we can all look forward to enjoying things a bit more in the near future- especially your planned trips! Both Japan and Ireland are fantastic choices.


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