Life Under State of Emergency: Tokyo and Rural Areas

Part two of how people are coping with being under Japan’s version of “Stay at Home”

Shibuya

Shibuya Crossing (Photo: Daryl Harding)

 

Previously, we looked at how the state of emergency was affecting the lives of anime fans in Japan, focusing on the areas of Kyoto and Sendai. Today in part two, we speak with two people who live in Tokyo and a rural area outside of the main cities to get their perspective and feelings on how the “lockdown” is affecting them. We asked them all the same questions to get their differing points of view.

 

(Note: all answers have been edited down for clarity.)

 

Inside The Capital of Japan

 

Tokyu Plaza in Harajuku

An empty and close Tokyu Plaza in Harajuku, one of the most Instagram'd places in Japan (Photo: Daryl Harding)

 

I spoke to cosplayer, writer, and Tokyo native, Kaho Shibuya, who in her past has been a newspaper reporter, a TV, radio and YouTube channel host, and a teacher among a vast array of other colorful professions. She lives in the heart of Tokyo.

 

Firstly, how are you doing in the “lockdown,” even though it’s not technically a lockdown?

 

Under our current law, the Japanese government can’t force us to stay at home, so there are some people not behaving the way we’re advised to. Yet things have definitely changed when the prime minister declared a state of emergency: In major cities like Tokyo and Osaka, a great number of shops have closed, so you don’t have destinations for just hanging out anymore.

 

The transportation system, however, hasn’t been affected so people can still commute. With how punctual and on-time our train system is, people are still heading to school/work. The extremely crowded train ride in Persona 5 isn’t exaggerated at all and is still happening.

 

This means unless you can work at home or you work for a company where they care about your health your job puts you at a higher risk of infection.

 

How has the quarantine affected you personally?

 

Actually, I hardly go out to socialize other than work. As a non-drinker, I would be happy only going out to attend business meetings or networking gatherings. All my friends are business-related so when we naturally come together, we work together.

 

My hobbies are reading manga and watching anime, evidentially, alone. My favorite genre is RPGs, which doesn’t require another player. I live very close to my parents. Quarantine thus far hasn’t affected my personal life at all.

 

My work gives me an excuse to talk to people and be an extrovert, so I cherish it very much. Otherwise, I’m an indoor otaku detached from society.

 

What about professionally?

 

I have many deadlines to meet: weekly, biweekly, and monthly columns, plus my upcoming book. There is still a lot on my plate, though I usually visit a café or somewhere not my room to work. Staying at home makes it absolutely difficult to concentrate.

 

Usually, my favorite workplaces have been the worst locations to go to due to during the coronavirus crisis because of their confined spaces, like karaoke and manga cafés to name a few. Japanese people often use karaoke places for business talks because you don’t have to worry about others listening to your conversations and waiters won’t bother you. Manga cafés give you access to almost every popular show and magazines in print. You appreciate the sanctuary if you’re a classic physical book lover like myself.

 

Was there anything you were looking forward to that has now been canceled?

 

I’ve had the luxury of visiting quite a few conventions overseas as a guest and was looking forward to going more this year before you-know-what happened. My last con was Anime Los Angeles back in January, and I miss the geeky energy there.

 

I was going to voice the main role in a new anime show and was really looking forward to it, then the production was delayed due to COVID-19. In fact, a lot of TV series and movies I’ve been waiting for have been postponed such as Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World- and Case Closed.

 

Mob Psycho 100

 

Is there anything you’ve started to do because of the lockdown?

 

I’ve actually joined Twitch and started streaming in April. With everyone experiencing isolation, I thought it’s important now more than ever to stay connected and share the same moments together live.

 

I don’t show much of my private side on social media, almost always posting pictures from professional photo shoots plus simple puns and messages, so streaming for hours from my room is definitely something new. It’s not only a good way to tell people how I’m doing through webcam, but what kind of person I really am beneath all those smug model pictures. Some might want nothing other than sexy from me, for sure, while others might relate more because I relate a lot to the topics Twitch users talk about.

 

Streaming on Twitch, I can practice speaking English since there are way more English-speakers on the platform than Japanese, and I get to talk passionately about manga/anime/light novels/games in the chat room with people who are really into those things and want to genuinely know about Japan. Especially with cons getting canceled where I get to weeb out together with my international fans whom I cannot see often because of the obvious long-distance in between, interacting with them and staying passionate about our favorite things is what I crave. Like talking about the Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba stamp-rally I went to in Kyoto, or other Japanese-related anime events.

 

Although, if it weren’t for lockdown, I wouldn’t consider making my own account since I’m so not a tech nerd (just a nerd, period). But my friends offered to help out and I’m truly lucky that I have them. I’m in good hands and now thinking of setting up for game streaming and more!

 

What are you using to cope with being forced to stay inside?

 

Now that new episodes of seasonal anime have been suspended, I take this time to go back to older shows, like Bleach, Gintama, Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day, Angel Beats, and Steins;Gate, all from 2004 to 2011 when I only have a vague memory of following every single episode because we didn’t have anime streaming sites to catch up. While the first two are very long to binge-watch, the middle two series have only 12 episodes, then the last one is somewhere in between plus its extra season Steins;Gate 0.

 

Currently, I’m watching Mob Psycho 100 in English, all thanks to Crunchyroll by the way! I want to digest amazing shows in English too so that I get to talk with more people about them.

 

Kaho Shibuya's home set up

Kaho actually put the A Certain Scientific Railgun puzzle together during the “lockdown.”

 

How has your neighborhood/town changed?

 

Considering it’s central Tokyo, the number of people I see on the street is now surprisingly low, especially on weekends and late at night. Some shops and offices have either closed or shorten their business hours, so it’s very quiet in the evening.

 

What are you looking forward to once everything is over?

 

Once this pandemic is subdued, I’m planning to have my first gig as an Anisong DJ! I’ve been practicing and was going to debut in April, so now I have to make my performance worth the wait!

 

I’d been to some clubs that played mainly anime songs in Japan, but when I attended Kawaii Kon in Hawaii, I made friends with AniParty members from NY at the LUMICA booth, and their energy and audiences were great. I wanted to be a part of that, bringing smiles and music to dance to, letting everyone know about stunning OPs and EDs.

 

In addition to signing, paneling, cosplaying, and emceeing, I’ve been eager to contribute more to events. Some other projects are going on too which I can reveal at my next con, whenever that is. This stay-at-home time is for me to grow, and after that, it’s time to show!

 

How do you feel about Japan’s response to the pandemic?

 

It was quite a long time before our government took things seriously. I mean, they should’ve regulated if not banned traveling, they were very reluctant to make that decision.

 

If such action was made earlier, I believe we could’ve been in a much better situation. Given that we have a bigger personal space in social interaction; we rarely hug or even handshake, and we’re used to wearing masks because of hay fever in the spring. And more than everything, our biggest city, Tokyo, is incredibly clean and safe compared to other big cities in the world. I hope you all get to visit when this international fear is gone …

 

Any other stories you’d like to tell?

 

A lot of my friends from overseas reached out to me to make sure I was okay, which was incredibly nice. In these hard times, you realize the importance of people around you, you discover who is really precious to you and who feels the same way about you in return. Without the quarantine, we are usually too busy living our own lives every day to ever think about things like that.

 

The Rounds in Rural Japan

 

Rural Japan

 

Finally, I spoke to Ernest Lin, an American who has lived in Japan for the last three years and currently quite a way out of Tokyo — outside of the four main prefectures. He’s a senior editor at the video game website PlayStation Universe and works as a consultant in Japan in various fields.

 

Firstly, how are you doing in the “lockdown,” even though it’s not technically a lockdown?

 

Surviving so far — things for me could be worse but could be better.

 

How has the quarantine affected you personally?

 

There's an overall sense of anxiety that I feel has been cast over everyday life. There are days where my mood has been pretty gloomy. Obviously, not going out as much and being separated from friends and others has played a part in that. I follow the news of the COVID-19 situation in Japan and America a lot, so I'm especially worried about my friends and family around the world.

 

What about professionally?

 

Ah, unfortunately, it has affected me in that regard. I missed out on some work — there are a few of my on-going projects on indefinite hold until the situation quells. Additionally, it's been hard to get some other things off the ground.

 

Was there anything you were looking forward to that has now been canceled?

 

Oh, at this point it feels like countless things — anime and gaming industry events, other festivals here in Japan, various movies, and series releases. With everything else going on bringing perspective, the cancellations and delays are only slightly disappointments. I completely understand and support them if it means keeping more people out of harm.

 

Is there anything you’ve started to do because of the lockdown?

 

I started cooking more. The situation has given me time to work on bigger personal projects. Also, I've been able to catch up with loved ones, especially back in America, via voice and video calls.

 

What are you using to cope with being forced to stay inside?

 

I use some of the time to study more Japanese and organize my living space. Games have been a nice temporary escape (Final Fantasy VII Remake has been perfect for that!) and multiplayer ones like Fortnite have served as digital hang-out spaces to replace meeting up in real life.

 

Ernest playing FFVII

Ernest traveling to Midgar in Final Fantasy VII Remake

 

Before the "lockdown," I hadn't binged many shows in a while since my job and other life stuff usually kept me really busy. Like everyone and their mom, I watched through Netflix's Tiger King. I've tried catching up on some anime shows I missed in the past. I recently finished Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai plus its sequel film and was pleasantly surprised by how much I loved them.

 

How has your neighborhood/town changed?

 

Places, in general, are a little less crowded and various public spaces and businesses are temporarily closed or at reduced hours. Almost everyone is wearing masks.

 

What are you looking forward to once everything is over?

 

Karaoke for sure.

 

How do you feel about Japan’s response to the pandemic?

 

Frankly, I do not believe the measures that have been taken have not been swift or adequate enough. It's one of the reasons I'm constantly concerned about the situation spiraling into something worse ... I hope it doesn't, but I'm always afraid it will.

 

Any other stories you’d like to tell?

 

A month or so ago, I was attending a meeting to check out a property for a project. I showed up at the entrance without a mask, and before we could proceed with the meeting, one of the staff made a remark about how I didn't have a mask. Embarrassed, I realized I had forgotten to wear one (I was born and raised in America, so I sometimes forget). Fortunately, I had extras in the car, so I ran back and came back with one on.

 

Around that time, I had a dinner meeting where the food was self-serve, buffet-style, but we were given gloves to wear while using the tongs and such. That was a first for me.

 


 

Thank you so much to both Kaho and Ernest for sharing their stories of isolation with us. Kaho Shibuya can be found in multiple places all over the web with most of her social media found on her website (NSFW warning), or you can find her streaming on Twitch. Ernest can be found on Twitter @erniichan.

 

If you have your own story about life in Japan you’d like to share, feel free to share it with me at any of the links in my bio below.

 

If you or someone who know is living in Japan, coronavirus-based English resources are available at NHK World Japan. 


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Daryl Harding is a Japan Correspondent for Crunchyroll News. He also runs the YouTube channel about Japan stuff called TheDoctorDazza, tweets at @DoctorDazza, and posts photos of his travels on Instagram

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