Federal Quarantine Order: Week Two

This afternoon, about an hour after I finished the old-fashioned, Mennonite-style spring cleaning I gave my home during week two of my quarantine period; I received an email from the Government of Canada informing me that it was over.

As I consider what was different about my life during 14 days of Federally Ordered Quarantine and days prior to C-19, at first it seems not much.

  • I couldn’t hop in the car and drive anywhere.
  • I wasn’t allowed to walk outside.
  • I haven’t had a hug since 2 April (when I parted from A in Omotesando and we said if this kills us it kills us—which it did).

Though I will be able to drive, shop for myself and go for walks, the news is not a Get Out of Jail Free card.

Self-isolation remains necessary. Major changes will be part of the new normal:

  • I won’t shop multiple times a week.
  • I won’t visit people or flit around various neighborhood venues in my city for diversion.
  • Events I normally attend monthly or weekly are cancelled indefinitely.
  • There are no live concerts.
  • I won’t enjoy restaurants or non-essential shops as none are open.
  • I can’t schedule non-emergency appointments for health care or self-care.
  • It will be harder to find people to make service calls for in home repairs.
  • There will be no relaxed face to face moments for coffee, happy hour, dinner with anyone.
  • The select few I may meet must remain 2 or more meters distant.
  • There’s still no safe way to hug (except perhaps this one).

Anything else I might get into is what I usually do and maintained while under quarantine.

  • After meditation and breakfast I shower, style my hair and dress. If I’m planning a grubby job I’ll shower afterwards.
  • As needed, I undertake the usual domestic routines–making the bed, preparing meals, doing laundry and cleaning.
  • I enjoy any number of on-going projects and keep up online connections with friends.
  • I set an elegant table with the china, silver and crystal.

However, what I noticed (even before I left Tokyo where I was taking extra precautions) is how much more energy I consume as I use strategies to minimize the risk of contracting or spreading the virus.

  • I wash and microwave cloths used to sanitize countertops, sinks, computers, phones and other hard plastic much more frequently and in hot water.
  • I use more paper towels, hand sanitizing wipes, bleach wipes, liquid bleach and peroxide (chemicals I generally avoid) than I normally would.
  • I no longer save plastic bags from the grocery store which I repeatedly repurposed prior to C-19 as the virus lives a long time on plastic. I’m not prepared to scrub and dry them all, and I don’t have a suitable space to let them decontaminate on their own.
  • C-19 is airborne and by compressing a bag that might contain it, the virus could be released into the air. Therefore, the garbage I create is also less compact and double bagged to better protect others from ruptured bags.

However, all of these are minor moves in a long game. As it seems we are going to be stuck in isolation limbo for some time to come, we have the time to realize the multiple levels on which this invisible threat changes—even devastates—everything. Despite all the “virtual togetherness” and stories of human kindness which emerge in the flood of negative news, eventual outcomes remain uncertain for us all.

In the meantime, as we wait for the sword to fall I’ve decided to paint the main bathroom, kitchen and trim. Before I moved in to my present home in 2019, I replaced the carpets and painted the rest of the walls. However, I left the remainder for a time when I had less to do. That time is now.

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Federal Quarantine Order: Week One

A week ago I arrived at my “place of quarantine” in the early evening (about the same time I left Tokyo on the same day).

Immediately I place my luggage on the enclosed balcony outside my condominium.

There the bags and their contents sit. I wait for the period of time that it can be presumed (according to the best knowledge we have) that any COVID-19 which may have attached during the handling process has perished.

Then, standing in front of the machine, I carefully remove my clothing without shaking it and put it into the washer. Afterwards I sanitize the lid and any areas I have touched on arrival. That done, I step into the shower and scrub the way people are instructed to do before day surgery.

Once I put on my pajamas I establish clear red and green zones in my home. Only then, wearing gloves, do I remove any items from my bags that I need to use immediately. I thoroughly sanitize those and scrub my rubber gloves the way you’re supposed to scrub hands after I am done. Why? The virus lives longest on rubber gloves and hard plastic surfaces.

After that, I relax with a splendid single-malt while answering email and checking the news of the past 36 hours.

A neighbour who’s been keeping an eye on my place for insurance purposes has put a carton of milk in the fridge before my arrival (which also gets sanitized). I have coffee and oatmeal on hand, so I am okay until breakfast. After that I need to solve the problem of an empty fridge.

The restrictions expressly forbid getting my own groceries even though the person getting them for me might very well be one of the 25% who spread the disease without having symptoms, or be in the stage of the disease before symptoms show. But rules never cover everything.

Or coughs from other shoppers may have deposited the virus on anything in the store. The Finns have put a very creepy cough cloud animation on the web showing how far and how long the droplets travel. Normally, a healthy immune system takes that invisible stuff in and makes short shrift of it; however, we’re way beyond “normal” now. Without testing, we are wise to presume that everyone and everything is contaminated and behave accordingly. This is how people with compromised immune systems live all the time. The rest of us are waking up.

Saturday morning I call Thrifty’s home delivery service and explain my situation. The cheerful woman on the phone says: Oh yes. We can help. Do you have an account with us? No? Well, you go online, open an account and then early Tuesday—as early as possible—you put in your order. We only take orders on Tuesdays. We don’t, however, guarantee delivery before Thursday.

Yikes! Houston we have a problem. That’s six days without groceries.

Plan B: Before I left Tokyo a few people had offered to help with groceries and such on my return.  However, for various reasons when I contact them, they are not able to fill and deliver a list of groceries for me. I begin to consider how I might create a disguise with my old eyeglasses, a baseball cap and mask, go out after dark when my neighbours are not likely to be out and about, and shop at a store not in my neighbourhood.  Of course, I risk being caught and fined. But when weighed against 2 liters of milk, 500 grams of coffee and 500 grams of oatmeal to tide me over for 6 days, it seems my only option.

Of course, I would leave my phone at home as it could be tracked—and I had considered providing my Japanese phone number on arrival for exactly that reason. It’s possible that the officers scanning my information might not hone in on the 080 prefix as foreign, but in the end I thought better of it. I don’t want people in uniform on my case for any reason at any time. If noticed, they’d suspect I had something to hide and then things get even more complicated. However, my wicked plan has another hiccough. The transaction will show up on my credit card.

However, I have one person left on the list of those who have offered help. My last resort before undertaking my desperate clandestine operation. Fortunately L comes through. On Sunday she arrives with three bags of groceries and 4 liters of milk. I pass her a cheque in a Ziploc bag (which she can sterilize before removing the cheque which has not been in a red zone at any time).

Then the groceries go straight to the red zone. I sanitize each item before storing it. This is why I have ordered only items which can be properly scrubbed in soapy water.

In the following days I get myself sorted. I leisurely prepare and store the food I’ve received in single portions and for later use in various recipes. Usually I purchase smaller quantities, but I need to adapt to less frequent trips to the grocery store. Might as well start now.

I make comforting meals in quantities that I can enjoy immediately as well as freeze for later.

Frankly, though some say it gets harder with age, this has been the easiest bout of jetlag in the more than 22 years I’ve been traveling between Canada and Japan. Thankfully, I get to spend the quarantine order in my serene home and can enjoy online connections with friends. I can’t imagine a quarantine confined to a cruise ship cabin, military barracks or third-rate hotel as others have endured.

Except for a digestive system that resists the transition to the new time zone, my energy is great. I miss walking most. I would love to hop in the car and visit a park or beach during these glorious spring days.

However there’s always something to occupy my time. Whatever it is always takes longer now because I need to be mindful of whether my hands are red or green at any given time.

I know, I know. It’s early days but so far so good.

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A Small Test of the Buddha Mind

Nothing, absolutely nothing went as meticulously planned. Almost every aspect of my Tokyo experience was a disappointment or challenge of an order that tested every ounce of grace I could muster while trying to maintain a Buddha mind.

Even so I had an amazing experience. It was not unlike going to a restaurant wishing to eat a certain dish and the chef sends out something else. It was not what I ordered and not what I really, really, really was dying to eat; however, it was beyond delicious.

When I disembarked from Air Canada flight 004 I was well rested. I’d had a great sleep, I was in wonderful spirits, and I had a deep level of serenity (good thing) in spite of facing a 6-hour layover in an empty airport with only a Starbucks, a couple of junk food joints and one newsstand open. I got through Customs without any difficulty after which I was directed to the Quarantine Officer to my right.

Wishing to fully understand what I would face on my return (which was significantly different from what I could enjoy in Tokyo), I’d read the Federal Quarantine Order. It contained comprehensive pointers, but not everything I might or might not be permitted to do was clearly spelled out.

I approached the officer with a smile and a cheery good morning. He handed me a piece of paper and sternly told me that I was now under a federally ordered quarantine, to go straight home and follow the instructions on the sheet.

Thinking I’d get Brownie points for my thoughtfulness I said: Thank you. I read the quarantine order online before I left Tokyo. However, I have a couple of questions.

Yes, go ahead.

Am I permitted to be alone in my car and go for a drive?

No. Stay at home means stay at home. What if you had an accident? What if you ran out of gas?

This was delivered in a tone that said: What part of stay at home do you not understand?

First, though I refrained from saying so, the document does not say to stay at home. The sheet he handed me read: Go directly to your place of quarantine without delay and stay there for 14 days from the date you arrive in Canada. Do not go into community settings.

Second, there are many types of places where one might be quarantined which are not addressed in the instructions. Parts of the order deal with what to do if more than one person lives in that place; however, the directions make numerous assumptions and are somewhat vague.

Third, the document spells out how to fill up with gas if you are driving yourself to your “place of quarantine.” That “what if” is covered. As for accidents, those can happen in any “place of quarantine” as easily as on the road. The logic of his answer didn’t fly.

My lips were Buddha’s lips, but in that moment I was not quite of Buddha mind.

There is nothing like a uniformed toad with a particular presumption of his own privilege and demigod, daddy-o mindset whose most vigorous form of exercise in the past 40 years has been wagging his finger at others to test the Buddha mind.

I had other legitimate questions but refrained from asking any of them. He’d only think me an impertinent smart ass. It was safer to plead ignorance after the fact should I ever need to do so. Instead, I said with much more sweetness than was in my heart: Sir, please understand that I am not challenging you. I am merely clarifying what the rules are—exactly—so that I can be sure to obey them and not make mistakes.

Even though the intel on this particular virus, it’s character and measures we should take to minimize risks to ourselves and others changes by the hour, I understand the protocols of establishing and maintaining red and green zones in my home as well as minimizing the risks  to all concerned very well. I’d been practicing them in my Tokyo home for weeks. This dude probably leaves the seat up—but I digress.

If he were less steeped in ignorance and puffed up by his costume he should have operated under the assumption that his breath may well have contaminated the very paper he had just given me with COVID-19.  Frankly, we must assume everything we touch needs to be sanitized. But that’s not quite the level of consciousness we’re at. We’re getting there. The question is: Are we getting there fast enough?

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Departure Bound

After their brief moment of glory, once the leaves burst green among the pale sakura blossoms, the combined colours often appear dusty and unremarkable against late winter’s brown hillsides.  The magical phenomenon so long awaited is all but past.

The Narita Express creaks, clacks, groans and sways toward the airport. I am the only passenger in the car.

When I pass through Tokyo Station the platform is empty.  However, once the NEX glides into the countryside farmers alongside the tracks prepare the rice fields. A reassurance of sorts that some things—at least for the moment—might remain the same.

At Terminal 1 I am the only person to disembark from the 12-car train.

Small clusters of employees at various kiosks try to look busy. Though signs ask people to maintain a distance of 2 meters, in one area young employees in smart uniforms are cleaning the wheel chairs. Not one chair each and 2 meters apart, but 5 people on one chair polishing the spokes, wiping the seat, sanitizing the arms, polishing the tires. Social clumping is the norm here. Social distancing will take a while to catch on.

I get my bearings, pick up my suitcases from Yamato Transport and make my way to the Air Canada check-in counter. As I hand the large suitcase over I tell the attendant who hoists it onto the scale that I know it’s overweight. I’ll pay for it.

You’re okay, it’s only 49.9, he says. Whew! I’m shocked. Is he giving me a break? I’ll take it. In a few seconds he tags the bags and I am on my way to the shopping and restaurant sections with lots of time prior to security check-in and boarding. I use the time to walk and enjoy a meal of wagu beef.

I drink a glass of wine and watch the sun do her best to look cheerful behind the haze. No crimson glory from her tonight. The faded sakura trees along the far side of the runway stand up straight, but I can see their heart isn’t in it. Not honne. Only tatemae.

Clearing security involved no line up whatsoever, just a few stragglers dumping stuff into bins, then onward to a quick stamp at the immigration/customs wicket. Everywhere personnel outnumber the passengers.

Once through the doorway and looking for the direction of my departure gate the gentleman in charge of the Special Assistance vehicle, a gregarious soul about my age, almost prostrates himself asking to drive me.

I meant to refuse until I realized how desperately he needed something to do. Thankfully my silvery hair might make the charade believable, and if anyone wished to quibble I did have a broken heart. Not every affliction is visible.

The aircraft’s departure was delayed by two hours. The sun beat into the seating area so I moved to an empty area on the opposite side to charge my phone. The last thing I wanted at this stage was to be denied boarding because I looked feverish.

However, no one checked with validating instruments. Just a verbal question as to whether I felt sick or had symptoms. Who would answer truthfully if they had? Besides, the 25% shedding the virus without symptoms are as dangerous as the ones who are ill.

Resistance is futile.

But wash your hands anyway.

At the time I regretted the wagu beef with its unnecessary sweet sauce as it was less than the best I’ve had. However, I was grateful for it as it beat the boxed potato salad sandwich, mini-Toblerone chocolate bar and bottle of water in-flight dinner service.

No pillows. No blankets. But with only 150 passengers on board, unless traveling as a couple or family, individual passengers enjoy three seats each. After dinner I belt in loosely from the middle seat, take a sleeping pill, curl up and dream a conversation with the COVID-19 virus.

An hour out of Vancouver we receive a dry croissant, a cup of fruit and a bottle of water. No coffee service. At 10:30 AM our craft lands and settles into stillness like a swan on water. The sleep has left me refreshed and my second April third begins. Twenty-four hours earlier I had been walking around my Tokyo neighbourhood storing pictures in my heart and on my camera.

Heading toward the customs area I pause as I always do in front of Susan Point’s ‘Flight,’ which holds the record as the largest spindle whorl—oddly symbolic in an uncharacteristic way now.

Then with tears in my eyes I turn to face the five-meter Musqueam Welcome Figures at the bottom of the stairs. Who knows when they might greet me this way again?

Then late in the afternoon of this second chance at a day I depart for Victoria into watery sun-drenched skies at the same time I was scheduled to leave Tokyo.

The journey is done. Federally ordered quarantine, the new reality begins.

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Happiness and a Sign

Some years ago I worked through the “Proust Questionnaire.” I keep the questionnaire on my desktop and revisit it sometimes to see what might have changed. I did so tonight because the computer threw the draft of this post on top which gave me pause. Was there something I was supposed to remember?

Of course there was. The question asked: When and where were you happiest?  My answer: When the first story I ever pitched became a 4000-word feature in Kyoto Journal: Perspectives from Asia, when I got my first assignment from The Globe and Mail, and when I attended ikebana classes three days a week at Sogetsu Kaikan in Tokyo.

That answer remains the same. I’m not necessarily unhappy elsewhere, but that’s when and where I was/am happiest.

Tonight a fierce wind howls outside and sometimes rattles the windows. Again and again sirens wail into the night. Earlier, before sunset, I walked among the sakura trees as the petals streamed from the branches. After waiting through the winter for that ephemeral sign of spring, in what seemed like an eye blink it went from burst to bust.

Tuesday I booked my tickets to Vancouver and Victoria. Wednesday I shipped two suitcases to the airport with Yamato Transport. I bade far too many goodbyes and savored the last beautiful meals I’ll enjoy for a long while. Today, more of the same, but because it was my last full Tokyo day I drank champagne.

Some days ago before departure was on my mind, I noticed a sign and snapped a photo as I often do.

I hope so. When I think that in less than 60 hours I will be under quarantine and unable to leave my property, it will be a new perspective. I’ll give you that. Will it be bright? Who can say?

Darkness can be luminous.

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Letting Go. Returning to Canada.

The potential of a Tokyo lock down increases as the numbers of C-19 cases escalate. On my arrival 4 weeks ago Japan was an outlier compared to the rest of the world. Or that was the party line while the 2020 Olympic Games were still at stake.

Now that those are off the table, over the past 5 days numbers of cases have risen drastically daily. If that plays out as expected mathematically and has been observed elsewhere in the world, in two weeks’ time those numbers could be thirty times the daily totals seen now.

Sogetsu School will most likely not open April 15 as hoped. If by some miracle it did, it would only close again during Golden Week, the first week of May which is an annual national holiday. Even if the pandemic should de-escalate (a most unlikely outcome), classes will not open before mid-May, if then.

My private teacher should not risk her health traveling between her home and her studio and frankly, neither should I.  It’s also pointless to sit in my room in Tokyo with nothing to do as well as face possible isolation or quarantine with similar prospects both here and the moment I land in Vancouver. Therefore, this morning with a sorrowful heart I booked a return flight to Victoria on Friday, 3 April.

There was so much I anticipated which did not come to pass.

  • The museums, galleries, concert venues I could not access as they closed.
  • The restaurants I couldn’t indulge.
  • Face to face time with friends because people are isolating.
  • A weekend visit to dear friends in Toyohashi I haven’t seen for five  years won’t be possible.
  • The ikebana classes I couldn’t complete.
  • The friends and teachers at Sogetsu HQ whom I didn’t get to see again.

Very fortunately, the private teacher who took me on gave me an intense boost and pushed me forward in our brief time together. But more than anything, I ache with the deep disappointment of not being able to finish the main thing I came here to do—complete Level 5 of the Sogetsu coursework. As amazing as that aspect of Tokyo’s appeal is, not being able to enjoy the many artistic and cultural events which I so wished to see was secondary.

I followed my heart and invested much time and energy to make it happen. You do that for love. For most of 2019 I lived dreaming of stepping back into my Tokyo life: school and a vibrant city with endless opportunities on offer. And for a moment I have lived (mindfully and intensely) a fraction of that dream, but not at all the way I imagined or wished.

More heartbreaking, I doubt that I will be back. I dipped deep into my savings to return this time because I longed for it so much. Ikebana studied at the source is quite beyond anything that it is elsewhere.

That said, as sorrows go it’s better to bring them on—combine the jet lag with the mandatory quarantine and get the grieving started. It’s more important now to channel my energy to protect the things that matter most—my physical, mental and spiritual health, and perhaps even my life.

Shifting priorities as circumstances change is not the same as defeat—not when something which seemed central to my purpose a month ago has become a kind of burden. It would be misguided to hold on.

A feral cat howls incessantly outside my window, and its voice articulates everything I feel.

However, just as the ethereal petals afloat on the wind find their rest, I too must let go.

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Spring. Sakura. Snow.

Yesterday my website dashboard went rogue and inexplicably shut down before I was able to publish the previous post. Instead of fuming I decided to enjoy an evening walk under the sakura next door in Aoyama Cemetery. A light mist, not enough to carry an umbrella, hung in the air.

The sky was wonderfully pink and the blossoms glowed as ghostly as my sleeping neighbours.

Why don’t you walk with me?

Here the tree seems to bend over the grave markers like a guardian spirit.

Looking west toward my Tokyo home tucked in the shadow of the distinctively curved building. I can always and easily find home from any of the famed city viewpoints.

This morning when I pulled back the drapes and the sheer curtains, I was surprised by snow. Though in hindsight I should not have been. Pink skies often signal snow.

After breakfast, noting that it was sticking, I bundled up and went out to capture a few shots.

I’ve seen snow on sakura only twice before. First at UBC’s Nitobe Garden and a second time in Thunderbird Plaza, Abbotsford.

Glorious. I remember the crows’ chorus: Wow! Wow! Wow!

The fragile, fleeting nature of life underscores all loss in ethereal petals about to let loose on the wind.  Mono no aware. The pathos of things. The impermanence of things.

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Distancing & Preparing for Lockdown

An opinion column in the Japan Times described Japan as a corona virus-outlier. That was a week ago.

Things change fast.

Last weekend many residents of Tokyo ignored the government’s requests not to hold parties this year and took to the parks for ohanami as usual, a colossal failure to understand the concept of social distancing.

Photo credit to Yoshiaki Miura

In response, Tokyo’s Governor Koide warned of a pending lockdown if people failed to self-distance and stay home this weekend. Corona virus numbers continue to rise. Therefore, thinking it was likely inevitable, early Wednesday morning I began to stock up on nutritious supplies should that occur.

Good thing, because after news that the Olympics would not go ahead this year hit and people were again urged to stay home this weekend or face lockdown, Thursday’s lineups in stores were horrendous. The good citizens of Tokyo (as happened in cities elsewhere earlier) cleared the grocery shelves of bread, meat, eggs, cup of noodles, instant ramen packets, spaghetti and water.

Fortunately, after getting food poisoning while traveling in 2010 and being laid low in my hotel for four days, I am better prepared. Now I always travel with a kit containing a supply of medicines to deal with regularity, flu or food poisoning.

With the present the disparity between the Canadian dollar and the Japanese yen the worst it’s ever been, I also pack food for my extended stays. Staples which at Tokyo prices can be three times the amount I’d pay in Canada. I still have a few more breakfasts from the kilogram of rolled oats and the tail end of the coffee. Two weeks ago when I saw what a few grams cost at the supermarket, I began to use less of the 500 grams of sunflower seeds and 500 grams of pumpkin seeds I add to the daily oatmeal.

This time with C-19 looming and thinking of hydration should I get ill, I also came with 18 organic bouillon cubes, as well as half a dozen small containers of unsweetened applesauce. On a day to day basis I supplement those supplies by always having things on hand which would help me manage self-care should I become ill. These include the BRAT diet staples: bananas, rice, applesauce, toast and tea. In addition I keep milk, probiotic yogurt, eggs, crackers and cheeses on hand.

When Koike’s first warning came I had a dozen eggs nearing their best before date in the fridge which I muddled and froze in salad dressing containers I obtained from Jon at Citron. I have been keeping him supplied with paper towels which are hard to find now. Whenever I pass by a drugstore and can find a pack I pick it up. From him I also ordered 12 containers of house-made vegetarian pea soup.

I froze those and added the last two packets of frozen vegetables without nightshades I could find in the local grocery store. Those I can add to the bouillon cubes and swirl in one of the frozen eggs for a nutritious soup. I also picked up a dozen fresh eggs good until April 17, carrots, more boxes of crackers, and packets of high quality soba noodles. I prefer those to rice or bread and the cooking water can be enjoyed afterwards as a nourishing tea.

Wednesday I was fortunate to find 750 grams of a lovely French brand of rolled oats which I have enjoyed on previous Tokyo stays. A 250 gram package in Tokyo, however, is the same price as a kilogram in Victoria. Ouch!

Then for rewarding sweetness that packs a wallop of fiber and other healthy goodness, I have dates and prunes as well as kiwi fruit and bananas which are less expensive here than 5 dollar individual apples and other pricey fruit. I saw a small watermelon yesterday for 35 dollars. Ouch, again!

Canada is telling its citizens that their lockdown will likely go on for more than weeks.  I recently saw a headline which speculated August. Bring on last week’s crow chorus: Ow! Ow! Ow! At preset people in Victoria are allowed limited grocery runs, but supplies aren’t always in the stores. I don’t know what the rules will be if Tokyo goes into lockdown. However, I am prepared to ration what I have.

Meanwhile I step up best practices. When I must take a train I can maintain my distance most of the time. Since I live beside Aoyama Cemetery I choose to enjoy the sakura with those who are not deadly–just dead.

Recently astronaut Chris Hadfield offered the following advice about self-isolation. Watch the YouTube video here. I offer my responses to his ideas in parenthesis:

Understand the actual risk. (It’s not small; it’s unavoidable. So be wary, but don’t fall prey to all the sensational headlines either.)

Don’t be afraid. (When his visor filled with fluid on a spacewalk he kept his cool. He had to in order not to drown in his helmet. Fear makes you stupid. Fortunately, I have not been afraid. Disappointed by the setbacks to my original purpose in being here and overwhelmed once or twice, but not afraid.)

Have a missiongoals and projects. (I focus on something as simple as sanitizing consistently—aka wanking my door handles which makes the chore a bit more amusing. I organize, create, watch other creators online and prepare for isolation if it comes. I hunt down the ever breeding Tokyo dust bunnies. There is always something to do even in a space as small as my Tokyo apartment. I exercise beside my peacefully sleeping neighbours and enjoy the cherry blossoms at the same time. They won’t last forever; neither will the virus.)

Take care of yourself and your space ship. (This one is so true. Eric Edmeades, recently posted a valuable video on how one critical point was being missed when C-19 was discussed—and that is the nutrition required to keep an immune system strong.

Alas, in Tokyo wild temptations for the taste buds are overwhelming: lemon tarts, pumpkin crème brulee—a new discovery. I work to limit those but in four weeks I’ve indulged more than I normally would in over six months or more in Victoria. Sigh….

Historically the Canadian government is woefully slow on repatriation of its citizens at any time. Therefore, I don’t think I’ll have to suddenly leave Japan before I get to use up my stash. Japan isn’t even on the list of countries from which the government is now trying to repatriate citizens simultaneously. Usually crises requiring repatriation are isolated incidents not global assaults.

Therefore, I continue to keep a Buddha mind about it since I am assured that I can extend my lease and the real estate company is being incredibly cooperative about the fluid situation.

I continue to gather the information I need to cope and thrive here. And I will be better able to assess my circumstances in two weeks’ time when I will need to make that decision. When I read of hotels in Victoria closing their doors during the current crisis, I’m most grateful to be in a lease arrangement with a large established company than in a hotel or an Airbnb.

As a result, there will be no great lamentations, weeping or gnashing of teeth in this quarter. While that makes great Biblical copy in the St. James, it’s not practical in the present circumstances. Keeping my lamp trimmed and ready is more my style.

So I’ll sit tight for now and see what develops. I’m sleeping well. Probably because I’m not fighting the situation. It is what it is. I do my best to make it beautiful. So far, in spite of the setbacks, my Tokyo life is rewarding beyond expectations. I’m savoring the season’s beauty and tapping into the bliss.



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An Afternoon in Meguro

It’s been six days since my last post and much has changed in that interval. Last Friday following the first day of spring in Kamakura, I received an email informing me that my 27 April flight to Vancouver had been cancelled. But dealing with that is another story. More on that later. Or maybe not.

Yesterday I went out to Meguro to wander along the sakura-lined river and enjoy a lovely afternoon in the spring sunshine.

After closing schools and shutting down museums, galleries, sports arenas and concert halls for a month at the end of February, the Government of Japan had urged people to stay home as much as possible as well social distance in order to curtail the spread of COVID-19. Though people are free to go out and about, there is a noticeable difference. Streets are almost empty.

Normally people like to celebrate the sakura season by flocking to parks and enjoying food and drink with co-workers and friends under the blossoms. This year, on account of the pandemic people had been urged not to celebrate ohanami as usual. In order to make compliance easier, areas along the river bank where people might sit close together were roped off.

It’s permissible to drink alcohol on public streets and in parks in Japan, and a few were enjoying pink bubbly wines as they walked. Almost none  were heeding 2-meter distances yesterday nor this past holiday weekend when many ignored government pleas, spread their blue tarps in parks and carried on as usual. However, yesterday “crowds” were quite thin by Tokyo standards as it was a weekday.

Fortunately, when walking alone I can keep a safe distance 98% of the time. I also avoid using trains during crush hours and can stand away from others in the often empty wheel chair area without holding onto straps. Even so, every action I take is a gamble in spite of the fact that I do my best to minimize risks. I sanitize, sanitize, and sanitize my home and hand wash, hand wash, hand wash.

However, as March wears on the weather turns warm and the sakura bloom. While things tighten up globally and other nations are locked down, some Japanese people have slackened their C-19 vigilance.

Until recently Japan’s numbers (after Diamond Princess’ passengers are subtracted) have largely been confined to a few local clusters in more remote areas. However, following a recent up-tick in Tokyo’s numbers this week, Koiko Yuriko the Governor of Tokyo warned that if people continue to ignore the social distancing guidelines as they did over the past weekend, a lockdown might not be avoided in Tokyo. Frankly, I suspect it’s inevitable as it is elsewhere; however, as I understand it only the Prime Minister has the legal authority to order it. So for now, the Governor is pleading.

Perhaps the gravity of the Olympic Games postponement this week may drive home the severity of the situation and motivate people to reconsider and comply. The rain which is forecast for Friday and Saturday may also help.

Of course, with a lockdown everything changes. As is permitted elsewhere, I likely could continue to walk outdoors alone. In France exercise is allowed, but residents need to carry a permission slip they write themselves and are routinely stopped by police when outside.  If that happens here, everything gets more complicated than not having a return flight to Canada.

Therefore, I’ve begun further preparation for various “if this then what” scenarios. Having something to do is always helpful. Notes about that process, however, must wait for another day.

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Hokokuji, Kamakura Bamboo Garden

Accompanied by a lovely wind speaking from the canopy, late in the afternoon on the first day of spring I wandered through Hokokuji. A Zen Buddhist Temple in Kamakura renowned for its small garden of moso bamboo (Phyllostachys edulis).

Established in the 14th century, Hokokuji is the 10th destination on the Kamakura 33 Kannon (Goddess of Mercy) pilgrimage.

When mature, the plants reach heights of 28 meters (more than 90 feet).

The warm glow of the tea house through the bamboo.

First view of the burial caves common in the Kamakura area.

The burial caves.

Viewing the garden after taking tea.

Looking more closely at one of the many specimens which grace the gardens as the seasons change.

Sitting quietly, doing nothing, spring comes and the grass grows by itself. ~Matsuo Basho

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