Moving into 2021 in Japan

First of all, I sincerely wish you the best for 2021, wherever you are. 

Originally, I wanted this article to be bright and hopeful. I wanted to talk about what good things could be expected in Japan for the year to come. But this is proving to be difficult.

At the time I am writing these words, Tokyo and nearby prefectures have entered a new State of Emergency, acknowledging the sudden increase in numbers of Coronavirus patients. Some foreign residents have already nicknamed it “State of Emergency Lite,” as schools will remain open. It consists mainly of encouraging remote work, asking people to not go outside after 8 p.m., and asking restaurants to close after that hour. 

It is hard to foresee to what extent people will comply. The rising number of cases scares people a lot, but at the same time, they have been used to living under “new normal” conditions. As my fellow writer Anthony mentioned in his article about 2020, life in Japan has not been too affected so far. Shops and restaurants have been open most of the time, and we have formed new habits: the wearing of masks, the presence of temperature checks and sanitary alcohol dispensers, and seeing plastic partitions everywhere. This has led to a mixed feeling of threat and control, and it seemed to be working to some extent—until it did not anymore.

On social media, I often see people asking when they will be able to come visit Japan again. When the borders will open. According to an earlier poll, Japan was seen as one of the safest countries, and the one people wanted to visit most after the situation improves. I understand that a future trip to Japan is a happy thought to hang on to. However, the answer to “When will I be able to visit Japan?” is: we have no idea. We do not even know what the situation will be in two weeks.

Prime Minister Suga seems to want the Olympics to take place anyway, putting high hopes on the vaccine, our ray of hope—but Japan will only start vaccinating by late February.

Empty streets at night
The streets of Ginza during the previous State of Emergency

Foreign residents and nationals alike are entering 2021 with mixed feelings: hoping the situation will get better with the vaccine, while dealing with increasing uncertainties and fear. This week, as it is customary in Japan, my colleagues and I have exchanged New Year greetings and each of us talked about our objectives for this year. It was very peculiar. Most of us talked about taking care of our physical and mental health as our main objective. But, at the same time, many of us talked about learning and trying new things. 

Laying down objectives is a good way to see the future as something to look forward to, and it is something you can control. So, I have tried to think about what I could do so I can feel like moving forward, as well as enjoying the fact I am living in Japan, even though I am staying at home. I have come up with this short list:

  • Go running more at the nearby park, where I can enjoy some of the local flora and fauna.
  • Develop my Japanese language skills: read in Japanese more, expand my vocabulary, develop my writing skills.
  • Keep trying to cook new recipes using local ingredients.
  • Since I cannot travel to an onsen, bathe at home more using all sorts of Japanese bath salts.
  • Maybe start to learn about Japanese sake so I can pretend to be a connoisseur at parties.
  • Stay on the lookout for inspiring and interesting people to interview.

If you are a foreign resident, I would love to hear how you are feeling and dealing with this new start (there is a comments section below). If you are outside of Japan and feeling frustrated you cannot visit, I would recommend making the best of this waiting time: maybe try to learn Japanese, or learn as much as you can about the Japanese culture and society (this website might help). When you can visit again, you will enjoy it even more.

Born in France, I've been living in Japan since 2011. I'm curious about everything, and living in Japan has allowed me to expand my vision of the world through a broad range of new activities, experiences, and encounters. As a writer, what I love most is listening to people's personal stories and share them with our readers.