Keeping Busy and Staying Bright

I’ve been busy–considering that many venues I would enjoy have shut down–but things also take longer here. Everything from negotiating basic communication with Google Translate to preparing simplest food in my tiny kitchen (thought it’s the best of the ones I’ve had). Then there’s regularly scrubbing everything down with hot soapy water or dealing with seven hours of laundry that should take two. Time fills up. And it doesn’t.

I can enjoy walks in parks and open air avenues that aren’t crowded. However, it’s not verdant here as it is in Victoria. Though single blossoms dot the gardens and occasional early blooming cherry trees are almost ready to burst,  everything that’s not an evergreen is drab gray-brown and not particularly uplifting unless it’s brilliantly sunny.

Friday last I went out to Kichijoji and Inokashira Park and found it quite the downer. I’d been there with K in fall of 2010 when in the riot of maple leaves it was gorgeous. Not now. Not yet. A few magnolias and some meagre promise of cherry blossoms. Anything but heartening.

As I wandered the pathways I couldn’t help wonder how I was going to manage six more weeks of this limbo and the uncertainties surrounding my scheduled departure.

However, the last official day of winter (depending on which calendar you’re using) was sunny, and I chose to visit Shibuya Sky, a newly opened development of the Shibuya Scramble Square.

Two hundred thirty meters above Shibuya the architects have created the illusion that one might step off into the blue air and fly.

I looked at my home beside Aoyama Cemetery with new eyes.

Though 213 shops and restaurants beckoned, I opted for two hours in the late afternoon sunshine and one sunset.

As the sun sank behind the Japanese Alps leaving a mica-coloured river of rooftops, my perspective shifted to less temporal concerns. A Maori proverb says: Turn your face to the sun, and the shadows fall behind you. 

Rumi offers: If light is in your heart, you will find your way home. It’s also true that if light is in your heart, you are home wherever you are.



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4 Responses to Keeping Busy and Staying Bright

  1. Anne says:

    No COVID-19 inspired social distancing in Japan?

    • Lynda Philippsen says:

      There is, but not in the manner that it is being done elsewhere. No open air venues are crowded with tourists or locals during this coming on to peak season. Though restaurants and shops are not yet required to close business is way down–in some cases I know first hand to 30% of the usual volume. Delivery services such as Uber Eats, however, are thriving. All large gatherings such as concerts are cancelled. Museums and schools are “closed” though some have held their graduations as usual and in areas where there are no clusters of cases are planning to re-open.

      Some of the young people on the Shibuya Sky rooftop were celebrating graduations and taking photos. Others were clearly taking advantage of the fine weather and time off school to enjoy a date or time with friends endlessly posing for selfies and such. In general they seemed oblivious to the virus threat and were not practicing social distancing.

      The lack effective hand washing is also problematic. After almost 3 weeks I have yet to see anyone else properly washing their hands. It’s a quick swish, flink and wipe on a towel carried in a purse or pocket–used multiple times a day.

      Many likely feel quite safe behind their masks. Japan, after all, is a “safe” country and they have very few cases. That said, Japan is not testing rigorously. According to one comments thread I read, a person showing symptoms who requested a test was given a course of antibiotics. If after 5 days the treatment did not work, only then would a doctor begin treating the illness as a virus and order the test. After that, several days to get the results.

      Autopsies are also not part of the culture here–not even in criminal cases. Therefore, the cause of death can be attributed to something other than C-19. Especially for the elderly whose demise can easily be attributed as age-related pre-existing conditions.

      However, because the trains and the temples and gardens are almost empty it’s possible for me to stay well away from other people. On the rooftop I could do the same, but those who were on the grass helipad were anything but mindful of corona.

      • Anne says:

        Thanks for the detailed response. Many Vancouverites have had a hard time embracing social distancing. Hence the increase in government decrees – no restaurants, just take out and delivery. Many restaurants closed on their own before government stepped in. Stores too. Nonetheless I expect government will continue to force more closures.

        I can maintain social distancing in the park or on the seawall easily. Shops in my neighbourhood are now enforcing limits so only a few are in the store at a time. Plexiglass shields will be installed to protect cashiers.

        • Lynda Philippsen says:

          Here in Tokyo I can also maintain distances from others. That’s harder on peak-time trains, but I rarely need to travel during peak times. Restaurants are so empty that you aren’t really close to others. However, I choose my restaurants carefully. Except for sushi restaurants where chefs have high levels of training, I have seen staff preparing food with gloves on move to the cash register, take payment wearing those gloves and return to food prep. The culture in Japan is to serve food in sets on wooden trays and to leave cutlery, sauces, toothpicks and such in trays on the table. Thousands will touch those in a day–as well as the call button many restaurants use to summon staff. None of these are being sanitized or used differently during the epidemic (which, frankly, bothered me every time I traveled previously). I avoid use of all sauces and implements wherever possible as well as restaurants which serve food that way. Still, even rolling cutlery in a napkin as is done in Canada, requires a person to handle those items. Was it done properly or did the person rub their nose, fiddle with their hair or introduce pathogens in other ways? We are very trusting of people who serve us our food.

          One change locally is that some places in Japan now allow service staff to wear masks while serving customers–but not all as it is considered rude to wear a mask while providing service. You mention plexiglass barriers. In Victoria bus drivers are now being given such barriers. The front doors of buses are closed. People now enter from the rear and now can ride free of charge.

          What will be interesting is how many of these measures of isolating and distancing will remain in place afterwards.

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