It’s been over a year since our lives were upended by the SARS-CoV-2. Looking back, it’s been a painful one and yet, one full of gratitude. It’s hard to describe the emotions tied to this past year. Back in January of this year, we came across this message in front of the main post office in the Umeda area of Osaka.
It states that all postal clerks will be wearing masks for their and your protection and asks for patrons’ understanding and cooperation. I had to do a double-take since I saw this on January 13, 2021 and yet the date on the paper says January 28…2020. It was the first reminder for me, that a year has passed since the start to what we now have come to know as the pandemic.
To say that living abroad during the pandemic is strange is an understatement. Watching my home country’s response from afar has been challenging, to say the least. It really hit home when a dear restaurant owner in Seattle died, along with her husband from COVID-19 this month last year. Seeing the infection rates soar a year ago in the U.S. was alarming, mostly because the numbers in Japan were so low in comparison. With the declaration of Japan’s State of Emergency, we saw the high of 100 infected in Osaka get down to 1 after 6 weeks. Meanwhile, in the U.S., there was denial of the seriousness of the disease. I find the anti-maskers a curious bunch since everyone here wears masks partly because of the “protruding nail gets hammered down” mentality, but also, the idea that if something I do helps protect you, why not do it? There is one downside to a year of wearing masks though: mask tan lines.
Who would have thought a year ago that a vaccine would be developed in such a short amount of time? And not only 1, but several with varying degrees of protection. The experts were saying it would take at least 18 months for a vaccine to be ready, so the timeline is quite quick. But I distinctly recall in August wondering what was taking scientists and researchers so long to create a lifesaving shot. My brother, a medical professional, was the first person I know to get vaccinated since he works with patients. My parents were thankfully fully vaccinated by mid-February, and late last month, we learned my in-laws got their shots too. A sigh of relief could be heard from our collective families. Next came my teacher friends. With the push for re-opening schools in Washington and California, unions and districts have been at odds on the definition of “safe”. Knowing that they now have that layer of protection, I feel reassured that the return to in-person learning can take place safely. My sister in the Seattle area says by May she will have gotten her shots as well. I should note that she has no underlying conditions nor is a senior citizen. It sounds like her turn as a member of the general public in Washington is just around the corner. In Japan, we are months behind the vaccination schedule that the U.S. has laid out. At present, medical professionals are getting their jabs this month. My friend who works in a hospital confirmed she got her first shot 2 weeks ago and is scheduled for her 2nd next week. Next up are care home workers, then the elderly, those with underlying health conditions, and then the general population. Since Japan holds the top spot not only for the number of centenarians in the world, but also senior citizens, I know my turn isn’t coming anytime soon. One news report stated that the goal for vaccinating the entire eligible population of Japan is February 2022. That’s a long wait. But it’s better than my sister in Taiwan, whose country has yet to start vaccinating its population. I should note though, that Taiwan has and continues to do an amazing job at eradicating the disease. She has been able to dine out, attend concerts and have gatherings this entire time.
It’s hard to wait for our turn at getting the vaccine when I see friends and family already receiving theirs. But while I wait in line, I have so much to be grateful for. This city has posters, billboards and reader boards dedicated to encouraging its citizens.
The best is the huge reader board at Umeda subway station, the size of about 3 train cars, thanking the medical professionals.
Encouraging words indeed, not only in Japanese, but other languages as well. We will get through this together!
And now that the cherry blossoms are out, I am feeling extra grateful and hopeful for the road ahead.