So I just arrived back in Toronto. And I’m in a different world. A few days ago I was walking around in Tokyo amongst the crowds enjoying the beginning of the cherry blossom season and warmer weather. The enticement of the cherry blossoms was too much for the locals myself and to resist. In hindsight, I should have avoided it all together. Nothing was out of the norm. The handful of tourists attractions that were closed, way before social distancing became a thing, were the only indicator that something was happening.
When I arrived home, I stepped into the apocalypse. The airport was empty (although Narita airport was also empty), Toronto arrival’s board mostly marked with cancelled flights. I waited for the bus to arrive and saw something I never seen before. The front door did not open, only the back. Two people exited and I entered into an empty bus. I look towards the front of the bus and noticed rope was being used as a blockade separating riders from the bus driver. And thus no way to pay for the trip.
When I stepped out of the bus I nearly saw tumble weed cross by. A ghost town as the cliché goes. And this is a central bus station, always packed with people going on about their daily lives. I headed to a local subway to grab a sandwich (out of desperation, I never eat fast food). I walk in to find the chairs flipped up onto the tables and a notice saying no dine in, take out only. Fine by me, I thought to myself. I grab my sandwich and head over home so start my 14 day quarantine. Only to get home and realize I have no groceries! Back out into the apocalypse but cautiously distancing myself and wearing a mask.
Note: This was written on and around March 21 and 22. I was only able to upload on the 24th.
The warm weather or the blossoming flowers are great reasons to get out of the house. Put the two together and you have an enticing duo that can’t be ignored. The cherry blossom viewing, hanami, is centuries old tradition that can’t be broken even during virus pandemic. This is the first time I have witnessed this celebration and I am not sure what the typical size of crowds are. But I can confidently say, in this time where social distancing is the protocol, this is a high amount of traffic walking the parks and streets of Tokyo. Including myself. Is this a confident gamble or blissful ignorance by the people of Tokyo? We shall see.
Numbers are rising
This past week saw a spike in cases of COVID-19, and yet overall the numbers seem low compared to other countries. Countries that encountered the disease after Japan have already surpassed Japan’s numbers. Theory here is that Japan is still not testing has many people has it should. Some news outlets are reporting that the reason for the low infection numbers is that Japanese people are being careful and wearing masks. The cynic in me believes that Japan is purposely covering the numbers due to the Olympics. The country tourism has taken a huge hit already. Cancelling or delaying the games would further hurt the economics.
I left for back home
I left for home. Canadian government called on all travellers to come back in order to avoid possibly being trapped. And that’s what I did. Air Canada allowed people to change their plans without penalty in this current situation. I’ll be arrive back and plan on doing the 14 day self quarantine.
A lot has happened in the world since my last post. The overall mood is quiet with majority of people being concerned while not freaking out.
Here in Japan, majority of people are still wearing masks, the ones that not wearing have probably ran out. I still can’t find masks to buy. I still can’t find hand sanitizer. But at least toilet paper has been stocked up onto store’s shelves, not completely full but a better sign of the times.
Closures around country All the things that closed down later February and early March are still closed. But now hanami – flower viewing – has been added to the list.
Very little tourists Streets in high tourist areas seem very empty at times. It seems that all but a few tourists have disappeared. Tourists are easily spotted including myself.
Hanami – Flower Viewing Cherry blossoms season is here. The first buds have opened this week as temperatures have begun to rise. We have been seeing temperatures rise to 15°C /59°F in the afternoons. The sakura – cherry blossoms, or lesser known, ume – plum tree, viewings celebrated in parks with food and drinks during the day or night. But this year looks like there wont be celebrations happening. But the locals will enjoy the flowers blooming as I see many coming to parks and shrines by themselves.
As of March 7, the streets seem less crowded with tourists, a bunch of attractions are closed for a few weeks and schools closed early. And people on social networks are asking me if i am scared or worried to be here. I have been here since February 10 and plan at the moment to be until April 30.
So am I worried or concerned? Well, I’m not worried about the virus or getting sick, my concern lies in my flight as countries start banning flights from and to heavily infected countries. If the numbers keep going up and then I will be in difficult spot if Canada imposes travel restrictions, which they have done with China already.
Will the numbers rise? I think yes, but only because the Japanese government will most likely be testing more people and thus infections will be detected. Currently Japan has been relaxed about who they test, only requirements for testing are if you been to China recently. Currently Korea has about 6000 confirmed cases but carried out tens of thousand of tests, Japan so far only 8100 tests and just over 1000 confirmed cases. This is just the tip of the iceberg.
The citizens have been more proactive, pretty much all have been wearing masks. People wear masks when sick as curiosity for others in order not to make them sick. And everyone is wearing them, so much so that literally every store is sold out of masks. Although reports, including WHO, say that masks don’t offer protection. There is just something about the feeling of having an extra bit of security for when that person standing 5 feet away starts sneezing and coughing,
The beginning of mass hysteria? The atmosphere here is that of calm and orderly. Except for the toilet paper fiasco, the other thing that has been completely sold out at stores. It all started 2 weeks ago when a fake post online somewhere circulated so much it triggered mass hysteria. The post falsely stated that there would be toilet paper shortage in Japan because the manufacturing plants in China are closed due to COVID-19. Although the toilet paper industry here in publicly announced that most of the paper sold in Japan is manufactured in the country. But that wasn’t enough to stop the rush. This hoarding didn’t stop at toilet paper, tampons and pads were effected. Personal cleansing wipes and tissue paper were also affected but not as a serious.
Closures At the moment there are many tourist attractions closed. The closures began in February and were planned to re-open mid March. Such places include Disneyland, Fuji Q Highland, Tokyo Skytree, Ghibli Museum. Some department stores have shortened the hours to reduce traffic. Schools closed at the beginning of March at the suggestion of the government. The closures were not mandatory but Japan is the type of culture that will listen and follow their leaders. An important note to consider, it was easy to close schools because they going to close in 2 weeks for holidays, so this wasn’t a major disruption.
So at the moment I watch and wait to decide whether to wait it out till the end or avoid possible headaches and just go back home.
Although I am kind of enjoying the streets with less tourists.
Off the beaten path, a visit to an almost abandoned island is a must. This island currently houses more cats then humans. Only about 100 residents or so remain here feeding the ever growing cat population. Taking a step off the boat you will be greeted with well, nothing really. Just a minutes walk towards the residential houses and you will be swarmed with cats.