Coronavirus Ends at 9PM Daily

Ten months since my last blog post, we are now in the FOURTH wave of coronavirus, and our second state of emergency this year. Throughout it all, one thing has remained constant– life itself. I still go to work like normal, classes are not socially-distanced, staggered, reduced in size, etc., and everything is open. However, restaurants must close by 8PM, and bars by 9. So, imagine if life was completely the same, except everyone wears masks and dinner out on the town has to be a little earlier than usual. That’s the coronavirus countermeasures in Japan. And believe it or not, it kind of has still worked! Who knew that the darkness destroys corona particles?

For those of you curious, here’s a rough timeline of how it has developed in Japan thus far:

Me avoiding the “three Cs” per the Japanese government: closed spaces, crowded places, close contact with others.

June 2020 – My telework from April ended. For me, this had been my only experience in true lockdown– restaurants were take-out only, bars and entertainment places were closed, and besides grocery shopping I only ever left my town once, to replace broken glasses. As for WORK from home, my school is fairly low-tech so we literally mailed students homework, and of course we had no online classes. Some hip teachers conduct some, but it didn’t seem to be required. Thus, I had no work to do whatsoever. Then, in June, back to school.

July 2020 – At the beginning, classes were staggered so that half the kids came in the morning and the other half came in the afternoon. Club activities were also reduced to something like, 3 hours only instead of the normal 4-5. Other such half-assed countermeasures. Flights are axed. What a strange thing an empty airport is!

Sometime later in summer idk – They decided to do away with the pretenses and class went completely back to normal. No social distancing, plastic barriers, etc. Just normal honest-to-god class.

I dressed up as a train driver on Halloween.

September/October 2020 – After puttering around for a few months doing nothing, I decide that if Japan’s going back to normal, I will too. So I start actually going out into society again. Though it is emptier overall, it’s not a ghost town either.

My 2020 Christmas card. In Japanese is the government coronavirus slogan, “Let’s avoid the three Cs!”

November/December 2020 – Cases start ACTUALLY getting bad; by late December the numbers actually started to resemble other first-world countries– my prefecture at about 500, Tokyo approaching 2000. Back into my hovel I go.

January 2021 – A second state of emergency is declared early in the month. I believe vaccines have started to be distributed, but general residents won’t get them until May. What a state of emergency means is, bars and restaurants must close at 8 or 9pm, while everywhere else can pretty much close as usual. You can’t get a bowl of ramen at 8pm anymore, but if you want to buy some books, clothes, electronics, go to the market, or well, anything at all, you can still do it. This early closure of eateries is the only measure that is actually being enforced: the other two aspects of the state of emergency is just “strongly advising” residents not to go out past 8pm, and for companies to telework 70% of their staff, but there is no punishment for not doing so. That being said, Japanese people are pretty obedient to the government so it has been a lot emptier overall, although given the work culture a lot of companies are not bothering to telework people.

February 2021 – Cases remain the same, and the government decides to extend the state of emergency another month.

March 2021 – Cases fell enough for the state of emergency to be lifted. Restaurants were allowed to go back to normal hours, more or less, but bars were still asked to close early.

April 2021 – Cases have risen again, enough for the government to officially deem this a fourth wave, and the state of emergency is back! That is, restaurants close at 8pm, bars at 9pm, and everything else continues as normal. I still go to work. There is no special social-distancing in classes.

Well, that’s pretty much it. My life has been incredibly dull and routine. There are a few highlights, including a trip to Okayama and my school making it to Koshien (!!), but I’ll save that for another blog post. Or not. Coronavirus really saps the ol’ motivation if nothing else.

Life in Lockdown

Sometime last month, Japan went into a full-blown state of emergency. What did this mean? Well, actually not much. There were changes to daily life. Restaurants closed or became takeout only. I believe most bars closed as well, ditto other entertainment places like malls, arcades, karaoke, and pachinko parlors. Even Disneyland and Universal Studios closed! Businesses that had the technology to let employees work from home, did, while ones not so equipped (read: 99% of companies) still had their employees come in. For schools, we still did the ol’ “students don’t come but teachers do” trick. Since ALTs are governed by different rules, however, we have been able to stay home for the entire last month. So, besides grocery shopping and one trip to the city to replace my broken glasses, I haven’t gone anywhere at all. When I have been out and about, though, places didn’t seem significantly more crowded or empty than normal, just maybe more social distancing in the way things were laid out or how people waited in line. The government and powers that be have no actual authority to enforce a lockdown beyond suggesting to people this is what they should do. For the most part, everyone has been obedient. I had seen some people having barbecues or congregating in karaoke bars that are still open, but eh, I dunno.

What with this plethora of free time I’ve had, I haven’t done too much. I’ve just been watching movies, unfortunately playing a lot of video games, but I’ve also written two short stories! The first, “Our Man in No Man’s,” is set in the German trenches of World War I, a lieutenant’s search for a missing private who also happens to be a huge prankster. The second, “The Man Who Killed Today,” chronicles the beginning of a 3000-mile journey across 1980s California as a hard-boiled detective teams up with a serial murderer. Anyways, especially recently, it is obvious that Japan is eager to start their “return to normalcy,” ramping down testing so much that for the last four days we have had *zero* new cases. Wow! Classes are starting back up this Thursday the 21st, and I myself will be back in the teacher’s chair come June 1st. So, very soon, the adventures shall continue!

Coronavirus Hits 1,000; Titanic Iceberg Soccer

Saying goodbye to Siseko, pictured here whispering South African economy statistics. Credit goes to Julie S. for this photo.

You know that scene in Titanic where it’s just struck the iceberg and people are playing soccer with the ice chunks? That’s the kind of the spirit of this post. Since my last one, cases in Hyogo prefecture have trickled up to just over 100. I have a bad habit of underestimating/making light of disasters, and this one seems to be no exception either. A lot of the world is shutting down now, and it became more real when recently one of my closest friends here (together with two other people) all decided on Tuesday to quit their jobs, with four days’ notice to their schools, to move out of their apartments and fly out of the country on Sunday.

Japan, God bless it, REALLY hates change, and it is really resistant to corona-chan’s attempts to affect day-to-day life. Schools did close a week early for spring break, but they are still stubbornly going ahead with opening school as normal in April. Just yesterday, we had a sort of orientation for the incoming freshmen, with hundreds of kids running around the school all day. And as a “compromise” between exposing kids and closing schools, the usually-daily club activities have resumed practice, but *only* four days a week (instead of 6) and no more than two hours a day. Wowee! “Social distancing” has not yet even been recommended here, though the government does still come out to say “don’t travel between this and that prefecture unless necessary” every so often. A second motivator is that Japan really does not want to postpone the 2020 Olympics, so rumors are that the government is undertesting to keep numbers low. I have heard thirdhand (so take that with a grain of salt) of two JETs being told by doctors “you probably have coronavirus, but we won’t test you. Just stay home for two weeks,” and whatever reason for that your guess is as good as mine. UPDATE: As I wrote this post, it looks like Prime Minister Abe did admit they’ll have to postpone.

So, almost three months since corona began, Japan still isn’t shut down, and cases still haven’t exploded exponentially like they have in, say, Italy. As of writing, Japan has about 1,000 cases spread over the country. Businesses are all still open. Markets haven’t run out of anything, although toilet paper has become quite scarce and face masks disappeared since the beginning of this epidemic. Other than that, if you just totally ignore the news you’d never know this thing is going on in Japan. However, it’s only a matter of time until things really go south, given the total lack of any significant response or widespread quarantine practices, and the fact that around the world “it took 67 days… to reach 100,000 cases, 11 days for the second 100,000, and just four days for the third 100,000.” (source) Either that, or we find out that the quaint Japanese tradition of totally eschewing hand soap actually builds mega-immunity. I’ve already tempted fate once, because my trip to the Sapporo Snow Festival may very well have been ground zero. As I have said to many people in the ad nauseum conversations about it, what a crazy time to be alive. So, to the one person reading this, be thankful the ship hasn’t started leaking yet, but it DID hit that iceberg and it’s probably better to be padding those lifeboats than kicking ice around.