MINGLING WITH LIFE : BACK INTO THE MELEE OF SOCIETY AFTER THREE MONTHS IN ISOLATION

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The day finally came yesterday and I went back to work. The Japanese government has lifted the state of emergency, and students have returned to their schools, meaning that there is no ‘legitimate’ reason to be refusing to go into the company buildings, even if the coronavirus is of course present (since the lifting of certain restrictions in Tokyo, there have already been new spikes this week). In truth, I feel far more compromised in terms of safety – we were so much better off being isolated here at home in Kamakura! – but a person needs to make a living. I sense that it would be futile to argue. I have good instincts about these things – usually I know how far I can push it. I have already had three months off, paid, albeit at reduced salary – but I am extraordinarily lucky compare to all those millions of people laid off around the world worrying about how to put food on the table – and I am grateful that they were flexible enough to let me go my own way by recording lessons at home which, one of the Japanese managers told me yesterday, many students had found enjoyable. Phew.

 

 

 

The day yesterday was fraught, hectic, and exhausting, but I have woken up today feeling revitalised. Something about just mingling with people, interacting, laughing, communicating and sounding off each other is energising for the human spirit even when there is concurrently a constant possibility of infection from a horrendous disease. Speaking Japanese again stimulated the brain; young people are automatically refreshing with their eagerness and energy; both lessons (90/100 minutes) got off to slow starts but were relatively ok by the end, even if I rushed outside at the earliest opportunity in order to rip off my mask and take a full breath. Panting at the exertion and the reduced intake of oxygen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The positives:

 

 

 

 

  1. Precautions were definitely being taken. Although I do worry a lot about the proximity of students in some classrooms, they are still further apart than they usually would be. That aside, EVERYONE is wearing masks. Everyone. On the streets, in shops – all students must wear them, and teachers have to have THIS ensemble: 61JwgkohedL._SX342_

 

 

 

 

…obviously beyond uncool – try this with glasses; mine steamed up immediately; I couldn’t see, hear or respire at all and I had to rip it off like a panic stricken dork. Given the current circumstances, it is probably unwise to be talking about being unable to breathe – but  – I literally couldn’t breathe. As a claustrophe, this get up is simply not possible for me; like some other teachers, I wore it more as a bib around the neck which defeats the purpose really, maybe better than nothing but unfortunately, I simply won’t be able to teach like this, possibly putting myself at risk.

 

 

 

Still, everyone’s temperature is checked, both teachers’ and students’, the moment they set foot in the school with a temperature gun  – which looks very odd at first, like a horror movie;  : who is that about to be shot in the head over there?  but I was impressed that such a contraption can register your temperature so quickly (how?). Mine was 36.3. Normal (though warm for me – I tend to be more lizard-like, around 35.5). Anything 37 or over and you are not allowed to teach or attend lessons. Obviously, this doesn’t mean that there will not be asymptomatic carries, but thus far there have been no cases of any students or teachers being infected in the entire organisation – that is thousands of people if you think of all the schools – so it does at least give a small level of reassurance. Students disinfect their hands; there are plastic sheets over the teachers’ rooms windows where the students come to ask questions; no eating is now allowed in the school; lessons are temporarily slightly shorter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2. I am delighted to have had my desk moved to its new location, which is a sociophobe self-isolator’s dream. I don’t have to stare uncomfortably into anyone’s face, awkwardly avoiding their gaze all day  – Japanese workers are usually placed opposite each other at a common table- , something that for me is akin to mild torture – as I am sat in the corner facing the wall (honestly, that might sound weird, but I find personally that even if you like someone, if they are facing you all day it is incredibly exhausting to the human spirit; conspicuously avoiding looking at someone, trying to get exactly the right balance of politeness but not intruding on them, is more fatiguing to me than I can even express here; I am so relieved I can sit where I sit now). There are empty classrooms I can go off to in that newer building where I can go and prepare and eat with the windows open when the mask wearing gets too much (my god it really does, doesn’t it? very quickly).  My colleagues there are people I like and who understand me ; no one was even slightly off with me among those I get on well with; I have a coterie of perhaps six or seven Japanese teachers I have socialised with in the past and got to know; we are all eccentric and actively like that aspect of each other so there is no pretending; I was having a laugh – thankfully, these people have a gallows humour so dark jokes about imminent death and so on are perfectly fine; my psychology needs that – I can’t do the ‘smile and pretend everything is happy’ thing as it alienates my consciousness- so that was a huge relief. . Admittedly, those people aside, some others in higher positions gave me a slightly condescending smile (Oh, you are back….), but who can blame them when I got special treatment and they had to toil at the height of the initial crisis trying to put lessons online and scrambling to make lessons there when I had the luxury of swanning about my bohemian house drenched in perfume in Kitakamakura.

 

 

 

 

3. It is bizarre. The strict environment  you probably imagined Japan might have created straight away after the realisation that a pandemic was coming -: stringent controls, social distancing, all those drastic countermeasures, HAS come into effect, yet only now. ‘Social distance’ has become a word that everyone suddenly knows. At the beginning of June. There is plastic everywhere, alcohol sanitiser. The streets, I would say, are 80-90% reduced in foot traffic compared to usual. Coming back to Ofuna station last night I was amazed by how empty it was. It felt like the aftermath of the earthquake again, most shops and restaurants already closed. This does make me feel less nervous in many ways, as at least the policy of ‘jishuku’,or self restraint, is obviously being taken up by the people, which should help to keep huge levels of new infections at bay, and hopefully it also means that more of the students’ parents are telecommuting from home and the population generally is being very cautious (what is weird is: both the UK and the US took measures like these earlier, with much more strictly enforced lockdowns, and yet the deaths are incomparable. Japan has about a fiftieth of the number of deaths as the UK, with twice the population). Yes, I am naturally skeptical about all ‘facts and figures’ from any official governmental organisation, and there are different theories about possible cover ups and so on as there seem to be in every country, but the mortality rate has not increased; in fact some sources say it has decreased because the almost mandatory usage of masks has even had an effect on other illnesses such as seasonal influenza. Why then, are the numbers so much worse in the UK? I think we will be pondering this for some time. As for America……..I don’t know where to start and don’t even know whether I should. The Devil is obviously trying to start a civil war in his own country. His response to every crisis, particularly the coronavirus, has been disastrous. He has policitized a virus. The last thing the country needed, with all the mortalities and the rising risk of new infections was riots on the streets, but when people are so incensed by injustice they will react. He has made no effort to calm the country but has deliberately gone out of his way to do precisely the opposite. To deliberately pour gasoline onto the fire. All he had to do was say that the death of George Floyd was wrong and unacceptable (because it was; there is no excuse for a person being treated like that; I thought of him yesterday when I felt I couldn’t breathe; what if you literally couldn’t) ; that he understood the pain of the people, that measures would be taken to prevent this from happening any more and then you would not have the horrific conflagrations that are currently taking place. And what is all of it going to do for the coronavirus?….I will leave it there, suffice it to say that the situation is desperately worrying. It also made me realise yesterday that, yes, while Japanese people do suppress things for the greater good – the harmony of the whole – and that can definitely have a detrimental effect on one’s mental health at times, in other ways, the wonderfully civilized nature of the society; the graciousness, means that you are never going to have human rottweilers barking and gnashing their teeth and refusing to wear masks because they want to be ‘free’; people are extremely cooperative generally here right now; everyone has their mask on, head down, and is trying to get through the situation. America seems to just want to burn itself to the ground. Or at least a certain individual wants it to. There are no words.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The negatives: 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Despite all the extra precautions, the fact is, students are physically coming together again after three months stuck at home. This is guaranteed to bring more virus into the shared space. I felt worried for them. I felt worried for me.

 

 

 

2. The classroom I was in yesterday was in the biggest one in the entire company because I wanted the students to be able to talk to each other, but safely, so I was given the ‘VIP’ treatment with the biggest conference room upstairs. . We had all the windows open (plus air conditioning; not good environmentally but at this stage it can’t be helped). I was at an acceptable distance from the students, and they from each other.

 

3. The school I am in today, however,  has no windows. Teachers are cheek by jowl in the teachers’ room. It is an epidemiological disaster zone. I am going to go there as late as possible to avoid having to be overly doused in the shared air, but god knows what is going to happen in the classroom today. I then have to get a guaranteed-to-be crowded – even if less so than usual – train back, commuters returning to their houses from downtown Tokyo in the direction of Kamakura. I have decided to go back home up the hill by bike, because I just can’t then face a crowded bus (last night I took a taxi, but it won’t be financially viable every night), even if my knee situation may not be able to take pushing my bike  up the very steep part of hill after an exhausting day on a regular basis.

 

 

4. If I am honest with you, having read about how horrific some of the symptoms of this illness are, and that it is not ‘merely’ a respiratory disease but also a vascular disease that affects blood flow, vessels and veins, from head to toe, destroying internal organs, and having heard about how long it can take to recover from it  – a friend of mine who always works in Fujisawa has had it and is now recuperating at home, very slowly (his university allows him to teache his lessons online – on the train coming home last night, though slightly exhilarated by the sheer energy required on my part to get lessons going – I felt all revved up -this is always the good part of teaching for me, the mutually energizing currents –  I also thought to myself: I am guaranteed to get this virus now. Am I going to die? Unless I just refuse to go to work and give up my job. And have no money (there are no jobs available here). And then what?

 

 

 

 

So, despite my renewed sense of vigour, a feeling of coming back into the world again, a reconnection, I can’t deny that at the same time, in truth I also feel an apprehensive,  quite fatalistic sense of pure terror.

 

 

 

 

26 Comments

Filed under Japan

26 responses to “MINGLING WITH LIFE : BACK INTO THE MELEE OF SOCIETY AFTER THREE MONTHS IN ISOLATION

  1. I am glad you are back at work and things are working out. As far as the Devil is concerned, there are “no words”.

  2. Liz | wannabeliz.com

    I’m glad you are back to work! I work for Ford packing auto parts. Over half of
    Workforce went out on unemployment because of the virus. I didn’t go out.
    We are required to wear masks in the warehouse. Sadly, the state of California made
    Masks optional in some places. In my city it’s optional. I feel that those that work with food should wear them. The employees wear masks at Burger King and Sonic.
    That’s where I’ve been going. Is Red Bull sold in Japan? Sonic has Red Bull slushes.
    I pretend I’m drinking a Margarita! The Virus still doesn’t make me anxious. I just tell myself it’s not like it’s smallpox. I’m not trying make light of your concern over the virus. The loss of my Mother is what still makes me anxious. All the Red Bull slushes and eating out( drive-thru) aren’t financially feasible for me. I’ve just been too sad and lazy to make my lunches. I agree with you about Trump. Safeway( grocery store) has been boarded up! I live in a small city . So far, I’ve only seen a few kids protesting. Cops kill a lot of Mexicans and Whites too , believe it or not! We need to stand up for each other . I feel for George Floyd and his Family🙏!

  3. Liz | wannabeliz.com

    Look up Daniel Shaver. Immigration aren’t any better than cops!
    I’m Mexican and we get mistreated all of the time. I am legal as I was born in the
    USA. My Parents were born and raised in Mexico. I’m just waiting for some
    Poor , misguided soul to tell me to speak English! I’m going to politely respond
    in English. I’m just saying the police situation is and has been totally out of control!

  4. matty1649

    Thank you for posting about your first day back to work. My grandaughter works in a care home.The staff has had to work in masks and those plastic shields, she said it felt very difficult to breathe.

  5. Emma Fushimi

    Nice piece – glad the return to work wasn’t too horrendous.
    I also started commuting but I have a shortish bus journey so it’s not too bad. My workplace also is allowing us to continue working from home at least half the week – of course everyone is wearing a mask (it’s Japan!) and there are social distancing measures in the cafeteria.
    I feel fairly safe but I am worried about a second surge or wave – watching the Japanese national evening news earlier and the streets of Shinjuku are HEAVING late into the night (even after the last train!) apparently. A lot of young people NOT wearing masks and when interviewed, they were being very blasé “yeah, if we catch it, we catch it…whatever”
    So it is still a problem – even though in general the so-called Japan model of track and test, has worked.
    The summer will be very different this year in Japan – much more subdued, and much hotter with these fecking masks!!!

    • I have noticed the youngsters thinking fuck it too, on the train to Yokohama today.

      I am personally now slightly of a similar opinion : if 70% of the world’s population is pretty much guaranteed to get it, I almost feel like I can’t be bothered to hide any more. I was DEFINITELY exposed today

  6. bibimaizoon

    I think the AntiChrist could learn a few things from Trump.
    Actually, the AntiChrist is probably jealous of Trump, come to think of it. Glad to see precautions are being taken in Japan so readily. Schools are probably the toughest to work around ventilation and distancing issues.
    Despite the growing number of cases here in Nepal (201 new cases just today) the lockdown is only being enforced half-assed here. Most shops are closed except for pharmacies & grocery stores, but I see droves of people walking around wearing few masks. I am hesitant to go back into the real world. Was planning on taking the CELTA in my native US in July, having a rethink on that.

  7. Tara C

    I will admit to never wearing a mask, partly because of claustrophobia issues, partly because I’m of the opinion I will get it at some point anyway, so why worry. Death can come at any moment, I want to live my life fearlessly and joyfully.

    I’m glad things went relatively well at work and you were not made to feel like a pariah. As for the situation in the US, I am very grateful to be in Canada. He seems bent on starting a civil war.

    • It is deeply upsetting, all of it. What the hell is happening in 2020?

      As for the masks, they have absolutely become required here – if you were in Japan working you would have no choice but to wear one. In all my time living here I never have – even when there was an outbreak of swine flu I couldn’t bear teaching in it. Now, with the plastic hat as well, it is horrendous.

      Are things continuing to open up in Canada where you are?

      • Tara C

        Very slowly. Most stores (with entrances directly to the street) are allowed to open, but a fair number have chosen not to. Still no restaurants (only take away, no seating), bars, gyms, salons, all still closed with no scheduled opening date. All public events canceled, no overnight camping allowed, no gatherings of more than 10 people from three households max, must stay two metres apart, etc. Border is still closed until 6/26. So not much improvement.

      • Wow. It’s VERY different here. In the office environment, people come way too close. No social distancing. I am thus doomed.

  8. Cody

    I live in America, nowhere near any of the major protests going on but the despair is taking its toll. Half the country is obsessed with biased right wing propanda masquerading as “news.” Thank you for your blog, it provides a little escape.

    • I am not American, but no one in the world can avoid confronting the terrible times that are upon us (and I genuinely think that the majority of it stems from that creature – his destructive appetites have wrought mayhem on the entire world; the situation with China wouldn’t be as bad (I know the president there is basically almost a Chinese version of Trump, too, but) if there were a more dignified, human person in control, things would not be escalating so much. This is generally a perfume blog, as you know, but I can’t not talk about the world as well. If it provides any form of escape, as it most certainly does for me personally, that makes me really happy.

      Do you think there is any hope for this situation? Or do you think the country is going to end up split up in two? The Handmaid’s Tale doesn’t seem so far off to me.

  9. empliau

    I have a suggestion for your glasses: an ophthalmologist I follow on Twitter, the delightful Dr. Glaucomflecken, says that if you wash your glasses with soap and water and let them drip dry, they won’t fog up. He says rubbing them dry removes the protective whatsit. Good luck with the face shield!

    • Thanks so much. I am going to do this now then in the shower, as I am having serious problems – I am literally teaching without my glasses on! I was Eyebag Central today as a result. Great advice. I LOVE THIS BLOG.

  10. Robin

    I think may sell anti-fog-up spray for glasses. I got something like it for my binoculars a few years ago and it worked a treat. And Ric had something he used when he was working up north in Alberta for the windshield of his pickup truck. Science to the rescue!

    I just loved reading all this, Neil. Sorry about those negatives, but it’s all interesting to me, how people are coping, what measures are in place, what the mood is, how you’re feeling about it all. I think a little fatalism isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I think what I was happiest reading was how fine your colleagues were about your absence and return. I would have been depressed to hear that you’d been given the cold shoulder, or scolded or something. Such good news.

    Japan’s covid-19 stats are still remarkable, right down there with exemplary, extraordinarily successful countries like New Zealand, so I have a good feeling you’ll be pretty darn safe and can afford to stay cautiously optimistic. That’s how we’re feeling in this little back eddy of the world. We’re taking all the same precautions as we have since mid-March, but we’re happier, more relaxed, less fearful — mostly we’re relieved (touch wood) that we’ve dodged the larger pieces of shrapnel and don’t want to eff it up now. We’re kind of high-fiving without actually smacking hands.

    Yesterday, though, I suddenly absorbed too much bad news online from around the world and south of the border and found myself depressed and discouraged, sad and angry and miserable, and very, very tired. I don’t know why but my nerves had had it. Ric fried us up some homemade perogies slathered in browned butter, and I felt a lot better. Today, I stayed away from screens until now. This morning we walked along the edge of a crescent-shaped beach with a marsh on the inland side and we inhaled the smell of wild roses and seaweed and listened to the zillion bees that were working their hearts out in the blooms. Medicine I badly needed.

    • How gorgeous. You see I think what you are saying epitomizes sanity. We want to absorb what is happening in the world but can only take so much of the justified ensuing rage. Then it is time to retreat inside with one’s partner or alone, or be healed by nature and the simple pleasures of food. 2020 has been UNBELIEVABLE. A real epoch shift. We all have to try and keep some equilibrium

  11. emmawoolf

    Thank you for writing this, N. I’ve sent it to just about every teacher I know, not just those in the UK, but my CELTA pals now around the world, who are all dealing with the impact of the virus on their job – and their health. You’re doing us all a great service by being so honest. As my youngest (15 tomorrow!) goes back to school shortly, in a class of 10, just two mornings every other week, and my primary school teacher friends worry about becoming silent carriers, infecting their parents, and I continue to sit at my computer, trying my best to be a Zoom teacher, which isn’t what I signed up for (neither did any of us), it’s so helpful to read another perspective. I totally get the fear. I find the Japanese approach eye-opening, horrifying and reassuring at the same time. I cannot begin to imagine how we might do something similar in the UK. Hang in there. You’re doing a great job x

    • This means a lot to me E.

      It is so hard for everyone. Horrendous.

      You know me ; I experience and then express. It was so bewildering going back on Tuesday that I had to try and make sense of it by just splurging it out o the digital page. I feel VERY vulnerable. I mean I could just refuse, but then I would probably lose my job and have to rely on D and I know that would destroy our relationship. We would always of course support each other in crises, but since he is also going in every day it simply wouldn’t be justified.

      I found online teaching very draining to the spirit : also I hate being DISSEMINATED. for general consumption ( which is why I could / would never do YouTube videos : I WAY prefer the written word, where I feel ultra-comfortable and spontaneous but still in control). I cannot even imagine what Zoom feels like.

      I have to admit my natural showman side has not been hating teaching kids in the flesh : I feel more fully fledged and 3D if that makes sense ; ‘hiding’ at home reduces you in ways you don’t realize until you get ‘back out there’ again; at the same time, as you know, that is also the place that will kill you

      • emmawoolf

        Yes. I’m finding the Max Headroom version Emma rather tedious. And I’m totally Zoomed out. I want to be fully fledged and 3D. But am not surprised you’re feeling vulnerable. Stay alive! x

  12. You are doing all you possibly can to stay safe, what else can you do. I just wish you all the best. As far as the US goes, we are a tire fire for the whole world to see. Pray for us.

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