I have been lax with my blog updates, mainly because since my last one in March I have had very little to write about. Notwithstanding my use of the word “lockdown” in the title, Japan has never had a formal lockdown, but a few weeks after my last post, the Prime Minister declared a State of Emergency, initially in a handful of prefectures around the capital but subsequently nationally. This was kind of an “advisory lockdown” where people were requested to stay at home except for absolutely essential purposes. Travel outside the region was strongly discouraged. Many public attractions and amenities were closed or drastically limited, shopping centres remained open only for the supermarket sections. My own school closed its doors for the whole of April and May and I stayed at home for two months, though still on full pay.
By and large, most Japanese people adhered to the advice. I later learned from my students that many had switched to working from home. In Japan, an advisory instruction is probably far more effective than mandatory orders have been in other countries. The Japanese have experienced their fair share of disasters down the centuries, and still face regular emergencies like floods, earthquakes and typhoons, so they know the importance of, and are well drilled in following public safety announcements.
This, and the pre-existing familiarity with wearing masks to prevent the spread of illness and protect yourself from allergies, probably kept Japan’s infection rate at one of the lowest in the world. There was no mass testing, but equally there was no overwhelming increase in hospital admissions.
The two months of semi-lockdown were very frustrating for me. I caught up on a lot of TV shows and discovered some new anime series, but it was annoying having so much time off work but being unable to travel and see things and explore. I was stuck in a small, not particularly comfortable room with only my laptop for entertainment. One small consolation was that I qualified for the 100,000 yen special payment – a stimulus payment available to all residents. But I’ve only just got my application sent off (with the deadline approaching!). I also had the awareness that at some point, I was going to have to work a lot of extra days to justify getting the full pay during this idle period.
Eventually, after 2 long months the government declared the lifting of the state of emergency, and my school set a date for re-opening. Things began to creep back towards some semblance of normalcy. The school’s timetable was in havoc – many teachers had returned home during the emergency, and recruiting new teachers with all the travel restrictions had been impossible. In addition many students had paid in advance for lessons which would have to be made-up, and the usual school calendar which started in April was completely out of synch. Because the school had been closed a couple of weekends before the full closure, weekend classes are lagging behind, which causes a lot of confusion when, for example, a Saturday student has an extra lesson on a Monday, and jumps ahead 6 pages in her textbook! And of course lots of students were having extra lessons, because the school owed them for the cancelled lessons during lockdown.
There was also confusion about the “full pay” issue – initially the school completely rewrote the calendar and wiped off almost all the pre-arranged holidays, but then because of a legal loophole they realised they had to offer teachers the option of continuing to work to the old calendar (with holidays) but with the teacher refunding some of the lockdown pay. I am sticking with the new calendar – even so I still have to work one extra day every month to make up all the days I was paid for. But there are now two streams of teachers working on different calendars with different holidays!
There are still occasional scares about the number of infections and cases, particularly in Tokyo, and they still recommend not travelling outside the Kanto region. I suspect a lot of infections are happening in bars and restaurants where people eat and drink without their masks around other people in the evenings. But the predicted “spike” or “second wave” never quite reaches serious enough proportions to lock everything down again.
Meanwhile summer is here now. The rainy season came and went (there were some terrible deadly floods in Kyushu, the southern island), now the cicadas sing loudly all day, and temperatures are continually above 30C. The air-conditioning in my room still hasn’t been repaired so I look forward to going to work and spending time in a cool room. Oh, and I became a Yen-millionaire!
The only scheduled school holidays before December (on my calendar) were three days in mid-August. So I decided to recklessly ignore the travel advice and get out of the city for what might be the only summer holiday I get this year. And that story will be my next post…