Coronavirus Ends at 9PM Daily

Ten months since my last blog post, we are now in the FOURTH wave of coronavirus, and our second state of emergency this year. Throughout it all, one thing has remained constant– life itself. I still go to work like normal, classes are not socially-distanced, staggered, reduced in size, etc., and everything is open. However, restaurants must close by 8PM, and bars by 9. So, imagine if life was completely the same, except everyone wears masks and dinner out on the town has to be a little earlier than usual. That’s the coronavirus countermeasures in Japan. And believe it or not, it kind of has still worked! Who knew that the darkness destroys corona particles?

For those of you curious, here’s a rough timeline of how it has developed in Japan thus far:

Me avoiding the “three Cs” per the Japanese government: closed spaces, crowded places, close contact with others.

June 2020 – My telework from April ended. For me, this had been my only experience in true lockdown– restaurants were take-out only, bars and entertainment places were closed, and besides grocery shopping I only ever left my town once, to replace broken glasses. As for WORK from home, my school is fairly low-tech so we literally mailed students homework, and of course we had no online classes. Some hip teachers conduct some, but it didn’t seem to be required. Thus, I had no work to do whatsoever. Then, in June, back to school.

July 2020 – At the beginning, classes were staggered so that half the kids came in the morning and the other half came in the afternoon. Club activities were also reduced to something like, 3 hours only instead of the normal 4-5. Other such half-assed countermeasures. Flights are axed. What a strange thing an empty airport is!

Sometime later in summer idk – They decided to do away with the pretenses and class went completely back to normal. No social distancing, plastic barriers, etc. Just normal honest-to-god class.

I dressed up as a train driver on Halloween.

September/October 2020 – After puttering around for a few months doing nothing, I decide that if Japan’s going back to normal, I will too. So I start actually going out into society again. Though it is emptier overall, it’s not a ghost town either.

My 2020 Christmas card. In Japanese is the government coronavirus slogan, “Let’s avoid the three Cs!”

November/December 2020 – Cases start ACTUALLY getting bad; by late December the numbers actually started to resemble other first-world countries– my prefecture at about 500, Tokyo approaching 2000. Back into my hovel I go.

January 2021 – A second state of emergency is declared early in the month. I believe vaccines have started to be distributed, but general residents won’t get them until May. What a state of emergency means is, bars and restaurants must close at 8 or 9pm, while everywhere else can pretty much close as usual. You can’t get a bowl of ramen at 8pm anymore, but if you want to buy some books, clothes, electronics, go to the market, or well, anything at all, you can still do it. This early closure of eateries is the only measure that is actually being enforced: the other two aspects of the state of emergency is just “strongly advising” residents not to go out past 8pm, and for companies to telework 70% of their staff, but there is no punishment for not doing so. That being said, Japanese people are pretty obedient to the government so it has been a lot emptier overall, although given the work culture a lot of companies are not bothering to telework people.

February 2021 – Cases remain the same, and the government decides to extend the state of emergency another month.

March 2021 – Cases fell enough for the state of emergency to be lifted. Restaurants were allowed to go back to normal hours, more or less, but bars were still asked to close early.

April 2021 – Cases have risen again, enough for the government to officially deem this a fourth wave, and the state of emergency is back! That is, restaurants close at 8pm, bars at 9pm, and everything else continues as normal. I still go to work. There is no special social-distancing in classes.

Well, that’s pretty much it. My life has been incredibly dull and routine. There are a few highlights, including a trip to Okayama and my school making it to Koshien (!!), but I’ll save that for another blog post. Or not. Coronavirus really saps the ol’ motivation if nothing else.

A Forsaken Village Filled with Scarecrows: Nagoro

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There is a remote village on Shikoku Island in Japan, two hours up mountain roads, where as the population dwindled, this one lady decided to start making scarecrows to replace them. The result is a place spanning perhaps only two or three blocks, where the abandoned school is instead filled with students forever frozen in time and construction workers tend to a project that will never be finished.

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The first thing building you encounter upon arriving in Nagoro is their town hall. A handwritten sign taped to the door tells you “Come in!” but otherwise, no sign of human life. A lady is peeking in from the outside; apparently she didn’t get the memo. Turns out it’s the lady herself (or rather crowself), Ayano Tsukimi!

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On the table were guestbooks you could sign, with messages from all over the world, even as far away as Germany.

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The next stop was the now-defunct Nagoro Elementary School. In front stood an excavator, dirty and rusted, yet with a full tank of gas and the key still in the ignition. Creepy.

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The gym was filled with seemingly more adults than students.

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There was even a foreigner corner, perhaps past travelers who got stuck overnight. Adding to the “where did everyone go” vibe, there was still sports equipment in the closet.

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Looks like everyone was actually gathered for a wedding. Who gets married in a gym?

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The center of town was the tourist reception.

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I was even interviewed by the local reporter.

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Get out of here, kid! The place is haunted!

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Oh, right.

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Taking a siesta in the town hall.

Over one-tenth of the town’s human population was out and about– that is, two old ladies conversing in their driveway. We asked where the bathroom was and one of them graciously let us use the one in her house.  We also saw Ayano herself up in her house as she was sweeping, but sadly it was cordoned off with a sign saying “Visitors not permitted due to coronavirus.”

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Add the road in front of the school, another road in front of Ayano’s house, and this is the entire village.

According to the town’s own brochure, Ayano lived in Osaka most of her life, and came back to Nagoro to take care of her ailing father. When he passed away, she made a scarecrow in his likeness for their field. She thought it was charming that people would come by and greet it, so as more people started to move or pass away, she started making more scarecrows to make the town feel a little livelier. The population now stands at 27 humans and 300 scarecrows. She plans to keep doing this for as long as she can, and every month she holds a scarecrow-making workshop while every October there is a scarecrow festival. I hope to return one day, and who knows, maybe my blog posts will suddenly stop and a scarecrow looking uncannily like me will just pop up somewhere.

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Bye bye smoothskins!