What It’s Like Living in Japan in the Time of COVID-19
When it's the season for staying outdoors, how do you cope?
Come springtime, Japan is always teeming with tourists and locals alike, eager to go outdoors and get a glimpse of the beautiful cherry blossom trees in full bloom. This year with the global pandemic, the Japanese, foreigners living in Japan, and travelers, who are somehow stuck in the city, are encouraged to stay indoors to mitigate the spread of coronavirus disease or COVID-19.
If you’ve ever been to Japan, it’s not unusual for some people to wear masks on a regular day. There is hand soap available even in public bathrooms and public spaces are always kept clean. But we were curious to find out if there are any changes in the way people go about their day now that there is a contagious virus going around.
For Jaruwan, who works at a hotel in Tokyo, work shifts have been limited and, on some days, they are asked to take leaves or work from home. These are just some of the ways the company is preventing the spread of the virus in case one is infected. As for her daily routine, nothing much has changed except for wearing a mask more often, being more conscious about sanitizing, and avoiding crowded places.
Marliza shares that because schools have closed, she needs to stay home with her daughter. She works in chocolate manufacturing. At first, she was worried about the virus possibly being anywhere and the fact that they could no longer go out to have fun. “All we can do now is stay inside the house cook or clean,” she shares. But on the other hand, because there is no school and no work, it also means there’s more time to play, read, watch, and sleep.
For others like Karen, who is in global business development, avoiding crowds means going to work as early as 5 in the morning or head to their remote office which is nearer to where she lives. For meetings, they’re encouraged to keep them short and participants are asked to wear masks. Tables are also wiped down with alcohol once meetings are done. She tells us, "I have been wearing a mask especially when indoors; frequently sanitizing my hands with alcohol; avoid touching/holding anything like handrails on the train; sanitizing my phones, earphones, even coats and shoes with alcohol the soonest I get inside the house; avoid/less dine outs; checking for mask availability whenever I pass by a drugstore.” She also notes that she’s been stocking water, food, and other essentials in case the government announces a lockdown.
Minako who works at Academia in Hokkaido says, “I’m checking the news more frequently, and at work. I’m now separating the tasks based on necessity to work at the office and finish those first.” Nothing much has changed with her work situation except for the option to work remotely.
Because schools are closed and most offices have implemented remote work, it can get pretty crowded at home. This is the case for Kelly who is in house care. “[It is] a bit challenging as every member of the family are home. No school for children and parents are working from home,” she admits. But the good thing is work hours have been shorter and there’s less weekend work.
But what about the hanami festivals, which is what spring is all about?
“Slightly disappointed because I can’t do hanami picnic with friends this year,” Jaruwan says. Since there are still cases in Japan, most of the festivals have already been canceled. And though the public spaces are still open, mass gatherings are very much discouraged to stop the virus from spreading. Minako and Karen know this is for the best. She says, “[I feel] sad and disappointed, but at the same time, I feel it is necessary and important for preventing the spread.” Marliza agrees, “It is just the right thing to do, so I’m okay with it.” For Kelly, it’s a step towards mitigating the spread of COVID-19. She says, “I feel that it is necessary to do so to stop the spread of the virus.”
Instead of getting together with friends or co-workers, they try to minimize going out except maybe to the supermarket to stock up on food. Nomikai is definitely discouraged as well. They’ve been cooking at home and making sure to disinfect their space, too. They wash their hands as often as they can. And whenever they need to go outside, they wear a mask and avoid crowds.
Kelly shares, “I keep social distance. I walk instead of taking the train. No dining out. I stay home whenever I’m not working.” Marliza is supportive of the government, so they stay at home. “We avoid large and small gatherings even with our friends and family. We stay in touch with them by phone/online,” she tells us.
In a recent news update, Tokyo Governor Koike Yuriko advised people to stay home and skip night outs at bars and entertainment establishments. Of the 38 cases, it is believed that they may have been infected in bars nightclubs, and similar spaces. Contracting the virus in such venues could be because they are “small spaces with poor ventilation.” They encouraged everyone, especially young people, to refrain from going to these places for now.
When it comes to staying updated, they turn to the news on TV. Minako checks the NHK-News app for updates and news about Japan and WorldOMeter website for international news. For Marliza, it’s Facebook, YouTube, CNN, BBC, and NHK World. Aside from NHK World Japan News, Karen also checks CNN Philippines for updates about the Philippines. Too much info can also be triggering for some. Kelly admits, “I try not to watch or listen or check on news because it’s stressful.”
The government through the Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare has been disseminating information to the public, too.
These are just some of the measures that the government of Japan has been implementing to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
Though it may be a challenging time all over the world, we are still hopeful. One day, when the last patient has been discharged and we are free to roam the world again, the beauty of Japan will still be there. Until then, let’s stay home and look at photos of the stunning cherry blossom trees from the comfort of our own home first.