**This entry was written on May 30, 2020**
These past months have been..strange to say the least. Navigating the ups and downs, the uncertainty, the “new normal”, the anxiety hasn’t been easy, especially the first few weeks. As you know, at the end of February is when we received notice that Zachary’s school would take a 2 week recess. Thankfully the schools where I teach also observed the same guidelines, so I was able to be at home with Zachary. Jack went to kindergarten just on the “final” days for the graduating class, like the final field trip, the final send-off from the younger classes, the final graduation practice, etc. The kindergarten still held the March events, but limited attendance to 1 parent and no siblings, which meant that for Jack’s school birthday party, Zachary would have to be at home by himself for 2 hours. In Japan, it’s not uncommon for elementary school age kids to stay at home for a few hours by themselves; it’s part self-reliance/independence and part “gaman” (to forego one’s needs for the sake of others) training. Before I began to fret about what to do, a friend whose daughter also has a March birthday, asked if Zachary wanted to play at their house with her 2 older daughters (7th & 5th grade). I was so relieved to have that option and although Zachary was sad to miss out on Jack’s party, he was glad to play at a friend’s house.
The kindergarten graduation program was reduced to just 40 minutes with the graduation after party clocking in at only 20 minutes. We didn’t know any different, but my friend whose other children graduated from the school lamented that in previous years, it was a 2 hour graduation and a 2-3 hour after party. I can’t imagine sitting through that many hours of speeches and formalities.
It’s odd looking back at photos from these past months. When schools were closed for what was initially 2 weeks, I thought, “ok, that’s a surprise, but we can handle 2 weeks of no school, no problem.” My employer, on the other hand, canceled classes for the entire month of March, which made me wonder why the public school closure was so short. I recall wondering whether my employer was overly cautious, or whether the Board of Education was being too optimistic. Then, near the end of the 2 weeks, we were again informed by the BOE that school closures would be extended another 2 weeks. This time, I wasn’t surprised, took it in stride, hoping that April would show some signs of returning to pre-SARS-CoV-2 days. But as the end of March approached with no signs of coronavirus slowing down, we knew it would be at least another month of uncertainty.
April proved to be the most challenging as far as our mental and physical well being is concerned. We felt the lack of communication from the government coupled with our unfamiliarity of our surrogate country’s systems to be the most anxiety-provoking. We would hear anecdotal frustrations on social media of expats being told to call the local coronavirus hotline only for it to be busy for the entire time they are sick. Or being turned away from hospital after hospital. Yet, apart from social media, it seemed like business as usual: Michael still went to work, kids hung out at parks and playgrounds since school was not in session, stores and restaurants were open and the government only asked the public to not gather in large groups. We found ourselves caught between thinking we should shelter in place and thinking we could go out as long as we respected social distancing. We’d hear about lockdowns and schools cancellations for the remainder of the school year in other countries and fear that the Japanese government wasn’t doing enough to protect its citizens. But then we’d see the small number of cases reported in Japan and those fears would dissipate. The ups and downs, the stopping and the anticipated start of school made for much confusion and worry.
Finally in early May, the Japanese government declared a state of emergency (SOE), which we interpreted as a “lockdown.” Plastic sheets were hung from the ceilings of stores to act as barriers between cashiers and customers. Tape on the floor of businesses showed customers the socially acceptable distance we needed to adhere to when making purchases. Pachinko parlors, movie theaters, karaoke bars and game centers were all shut down. Mister Donut (and many other chain stores/restaurants) had reduced hours and take out only. Handmade signs were written on mom & pop shops explaining their decision to close for the entire month. The scene in front of the local pachinko parlor on the other side of the tracks changed overnight; the constant hustle and bustle, glaring lights, loud, smoke-filled street corner disappeared once the SOE was issued. Witnessing the stark difference first-hand was surreal and felt ominous, which heightened the uneasiness we were already feeling.
And then, only 2 weeks after the SOE was declared, the boys’ school announced that classes would be held twice a week for 2 hours with staggered start times depending on the block on which you live. I was taken aback reading that announcement, thinking it might be too soon, but then my employer notified me that my classes would also resume on May 20th albeit using Zoom. Slowly we were easing back to “normal”, cautiously at first, and then little by little getting right back into the swing of things. Last Monday (May 25th), the government lifted the SOE, which basically allowed most businesses to return to regular operating hours. The pachinko parlor was back in operation almost immediately after the announcement and the street corner is almost as busy as it was in February. Mister Donut is now back to its regular hours with dine-in service. The train to work was quite crowded, which made me a bit nervous. But everything seems back to pre-coronavirus days, which made me feel uneasy, yet hopeful.
Looking back on these months, there is much to reflect on. It seems to have been the slowest 3 months that went by in a flash. I have never walked so much without a destination before. I made a total of 9 masks without a sewing machine and there won’t be a tenth. Oftentimes while brushing my teeth at night, I had to ponder whether I had brushed that morning. I made a sourdough starter but have yet to make an edible loaf of sourdough bread. I made yeast water and successfully made what can only be described as bread-cake in the rice cooker. And a surprisingly doughy cinnamon roll. I made hummus from scratch and may consider making it again in the future. Dalgona coffee was surprisingly delicious, but I don’t foresee having the time to dedicate to another cup of creamy goodness. Who knew you could use cake mix to bake cookies? (Thanks Sue!) Technology has allowed us to come together remotely. I’ve video-chatted 10 times more in the past 3 months than the previous year and a half. The one good thing that has come out of it is that our family has emerged stronger than ever. Many bumps and misunderstandings along the way, but we appreciate each other more and cherish our time together.
Disclaimer: I don’t go to Mister Donut everyday, I just walk past it everyday. Well, most days I just walk past and don’t go in. Ok, I do go in more than I care to admit.