What can I say about the coronavirus that hasn’t been said? I want to be honest and the fact of the matter is, if I’m honest, — you reading this wherever you are in the world may rue me for it. The reason I say so is because here in Tokyo, the notion of a global pandemic seems to have been forgotten.
At least, that’s what it seems like to me.
I was out last night in Shibuya, an area popular for its restaurants, bars, and shopping establishments. I imagine for someone whose never been to Japan and whose only knowledge of the country comes from popular culture, Shibuya is what they visualize. Neon lights, an assortment of subcultures come to life, and maddening crowds all going this way and that. Several months ago, that dream lay dead at the feet of coronavirus, the place turned desolate with little trace of its usual festivity. Only, as time heals all wounds and even has the power of resurrection, Shibuya’s returned to its glory, as was the case last night when I met friends and drank and enjoyed myself.
This is as much a reason for my guilt as it is for my joy. While the virus continues to rage around the world, leaving families torn and businesses bankrupt, I’m in Tokyo going out on Fridays like nothing’s changed. It’s easy enough being in the position I am where having just graduated university, I can still lean on my parents to provide the fundamentals for living other people may be fighting for. Money, food, tomorrow. I have to worry about none of those and I’m lucky for it.
My life, although shaken up at the onset of the virus in Japan, has not fallen into the gutters as is the case with some. There were many others, my age and older out last night so the city rang with laughter and drunken reveling, no one following social distancing rules and all the better for it, we were so happy. Then, come morning I woke to the gloom of a hangover. How to overcome it is the biggest of my problems this Saturday. The minutes pass like ants on a hill and I’m only trying to get through it until night when I’ll have dinner with my family, — my father suggested a local Chinese eatery we’d been frequenting for some years now. Afterwards, I’ll meet some friends and repeat.
I’ve reached the light at the end of the tunnel.
The darkness was far back when for weeks I couldn’t meet anyone who didn’t live nearby. During that time, a lockdown was imposed but it wasn’t mandatory. I could go for walks and some restaurants remained open, albeit, there were few customers. It was early April, when, in response to the rising number of cases, a nationwide state of emergency was declared that people really panicked. However, unlike other countries where governments could legally authorize closure, that was not the case in Japan. Educational facilities, entertainment facilities, and recreational facilities were asked to close and while most abided by this request, those that didn’t could only be publicly shamed or peer pressured.
The response was typically Japanese, most followed but some remained open out of necessity. Weeks went on under these guidelines. Personally, the only change I felt was a greater reluctance to ride any form of public transportation, but that’s not to say they weren’t operating as normal. During the state of emergency, there was unrest amongst business stemming from a lack of financial support and uncertainty for the future. By the time cases dropped to lower double digits daily, the consensus of the populous was that rebooting the economy was the number one priority.
The state of emergency was lifted in three stages. By June 19th, all businesses reopened with certain measurements for some, such as bars not being allowed to serve alcohol past 10 pm. That has since stopped. People have returned to flood areas like Shibuya, most wearing masks. Two weeks after the state of emergency was lifted, daily infections skyrocketed and surpassed the number of cases in April. However, by then it was hard to re-impose a lockdown. There are still several hundred daily cases across the country but people’s response to it now is dependent on the individual. I’m sure some remain quarantined in their homes but most seem to have accepted the reality of living side by side with coronavirus until a vaccine is developed.
So, that’s what I have to say about my experience. To anyone reading this in the midst of their darkness with no vision of light, I hope at least you and your loved ones are healthy. Unfortunately, condolences are all I can offer.
Liam Langan age 22, Tokyo, Japan