COVID-19, Tokyo Lockdown, and Life in Japan
UPDATE 4/7: Emergency declared in Japan for Tokyo, Osaka and five other virus hot spots. I’ll be sharing my thoughts and a plan of action for my family in a future post.
As lockdown looms on the horizon for Japan’s capital, I’ve decided to share my take on COVID-19, Tokyo lockdown, and life in Japan.
Since January of this year, I’ve had plenty of sponsored content to keep me busy. I was eager to take The Wagamama Diaries and Instagram account (@wadateni) to the next level as the Tokyo 2020 Olympics were just 6 months away. I even started a page, Instagramming My Way Around Tokyo dedicated to my adventures around town.
Unfortunately, a large portion of my clients depend on inbound tourism, which has taken a massive hit in recent weeks. My March losses (from canceled and/or postponed projects) are almost as much as my monthly teaching salary.
However, my losses are nothing compared to the dreams across Tokyo and throughout Japan that are fading away. All the independent cafes, restaurants, AirBnBs and other establishments and services that may be unable to recover from the steep decline in international and domestic tourists.
Even if (a big “if”) things seem “safe” in Japan compared to how COVID-19 is affecting the rest of the world, travel bans make it nearly impossible for anyone to enter Japan. What’s perhaps more concerning is the lax attitudes across Japan to COVID-19. I fear will result in a dramatic increase in numbers of infected people.
My attitude towards COVID-19 has certainly changed in the past 2 weeks. It’s all because of what’s going on in Europe and the US.
Back in February, when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called for a nationwide closure of schools, my daycare/kindergarten facility remained open.
I accepted it as an “essential service” for parents who absolutely could not take off from work. My school even sent out an email to parents asking them to send their children only if absolutely necessary. We even canceled gakudo after-school classes for elementary school kids. Throughout March, I taught a class of three (sometimes four) students.
For nearly three weeks, I covered Miss M’s stroller in a rain cover. (Why waste masks on a three year old who hardly knows mask etiquette? Though I’m extremely lucky that my seasonal allergies prompted me to buy masks way back in January.)
Monday through Friday, we made our daily trek to our school in Chiba. Trains bound for Tokyo proper certainly seemed less packed than usual.
On the weekends, Tokyo proper was like a ghost town. An outing to Odaiba involved stress-free transfers at Akihabara and Shinbashi Stations, with plenty of room to navigate the platforms with a stroller. And, once we arrived at Odaiba, there were literally more pigeons than people on the boardwalk, despite the beautiful weather.
Eventually, people dropped their guard. Numerous articles praising Japan’s fight against the coronavirus came out. Cultural practices like bowing and wearing masks were seen as key to stopping the spread of COVID-19. I even came across a tweet linking the childhood BCG vaccine against Tuberculosis as a reason why the coronavirus was not spreading fast in Japan. (I did put on my tin foil hat and jumped down the rabbit hold reading up on that one.)
Restless families even took advantage of school closures and cheap flights and took holidays in Europe and Hawaii. (Seriously.) And, then came the annual bloom of the cherry blossoms, which coincided with gorgeous weather and a three day weekend.
No longer were families hunkering down at home. Just as the rest of the world was reaching new levels of daily infections, people across Japan thought it was the best time to gather under cherry blossom trees for hanami.
Tokyo Lockdown and Life in Japan
Unfortunately, all the hanami fun and returning travellers have contributed to the spread of COVID-19 in Japan. Tokyo, in particular, is seeing daily increases in the number of confirmed cases. While politicians bicker with each other on the Diet floor, Japanese medical professionals are urging Prime Minister Abe to declare a lockdown.
I have no idea what “lockdown” will mean for Tokyo or what measures the government will suggest. But, if the press conference held by Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike on last Friday (March 27) is an indicator of what is to come, I won’t hold my breath waiting for Tokyo to enact proper lockdown measures.
ICYMI: Koike urged residents to practice restraint (自粛 | jishuku) and refrain from going out over the weekend and to avoid going out at night. I was seriously confused.
There were no calls for limiting outings throughout the week. There was nothing at all about urging companies to promote telework or asking residents to limit their weekday outings. Why not? It’s foolish to treat the coronavirus as if it infects on a Monday – Friday 9-5 schedule!
Unfortunately, Tokyo trains during commuter rush hour are perhaps one of the best places to catch COVID-19. What’s more, people who work in Tokyo don’t necessarily live in Tokyo. Don’t forget travelers transferring trains at major hub stations like Shinagawa, Ueno, Tokyo, and Shinjuku!
Just for starters, let’s look at the Sobu line and Keihin Tohoku Lines. The rapid Sobu line stretches across Tokyo Prefecture. It connecting cities like Yohohama and Kawasaki to Narita Airport all the way in Chiba Prefecture. The Keihin Tohoku line also connects major cities in three prefectures. It connects Saitama City in Saitama Prefecture, Ueno, Tokyo and Shinagawa in Tokyo, and Kawasaki and Yokohama in Kanagawa Prefecture.
The tetsu mama in me also wants y’all to know that there are 36 train lines operated by JR East that service Tokyo. This is in addition to 13 Tokyo Metro subway lines, and 4 Toei lines. Oh, and don’t forget other lines like the Tokyo monorail that goes to Haneda Airport, the Yurikamome Line that goes to Odaiba, Tobu Lines, Odakyu, Keikyu Lines, Keio Lines…
I think about the daily massive movement of people in and out of Tokyo. It’s frightening to think about how COVID-19 infections could possibly increase across Japan.
It seems like everyone is waiting for the eventual “lockdown.” Meanwhile, I’ll be taking cues from California, New York, France and Austria to stay safe. I’m limiting myself to essential outings.* I have even started homeschooling Miss M to keep her home from kindergarten (and entertained) as much as possible. But, why should I worry? Each household will receive two cloth masks — at the end of April!
*shopping for food, doctor/dentist appointments, walking our dog
What meaasures are your city/country taking to prevent the further spread of COVID-19? Let’s all stay safe and #stayhome!
COVID-19, Tokyo Lockdown, and Life in Japan