Well hello there. I’m curently writing this from the bed of my parents’ guest bedroom in Sacramento, California.
“But Stephen,” you say, befuddled but only a teensy little bit while you feign interest, “I thought that this was a blog/site about your life in Japan!”
Yes, well, I’ve been in America for the last month and a half and only feel a little guilty about it. Sometime around mid-April in Tokyo, things started to look a bit gloomy in Japan. Vaccination efforts were fully underway in California while Japan still seemed intent on doing it’s typical “Nihonjinron” thing and asking the stupid questions no one else dares ask like “Do these vaccines work on Japanese people?” (As if there are no Asian people in any of the countries where vaccination drives were in full effect) and “How long can you force people to ganbatte for the sake of the Olympics?”
COVID cases were reaching a critical tupping point in Osaka and rising in Tokyo, prompting the priime minister to declare yet another flaccid state of emergency, this time with additional special “Don’t sell alcohol at your restaurants please” provisions. So I did what any self-respecting coward/holder of a US passport would do and jumped ship (temporarily but we’ll get to that in a bit). Booking a ticket on the first flight out of Haneda Airport that was landing in the general vicinity of somewhere I could actually go, I hit up my local PCR test clinic (there was miraculously an open slot at the precise right time for someone looking to catch an international flight in the coming hours), hastily taught my Japanese grandparents how to use FaceTime, apologized profusely to my comedy partner, and, within two days of booking, was on a redeye flight from Tokyo to San Francisco.
Several things that stuck with me about travelling internationally from one of Asia’s major transportation hubs in the middle of a global superpandemic:
1- Airports are really freaky when there’s no one in them.
I mean, the airport wasn’t devoid of life by any means but all the stores aside from the currency exchanger dude were either shuttered or dark. There were actually a surprising amount of people waiting by the gates at the terminal, most of them seemingly catching a flight to the states or Frankfurt and most of them people of Indian descent travelling back home from India (Navaratri had apparently just ended and this was before countries really started getting really woried about the Indian “Delta” variant of COVID-19).
2- AIRPLANE FOOD IS BACK, BABY!
With the way the last year has gone, causing the travel industry to largely grind to a halt in 2020, much was made about the decline of the in-flight meal as an “anti-coronavirus” measure (though probably just an excuse to cut costs by getting rid of food on planes). I am happy to report that my ANA flight across the Pacific Ocean had full meal service and it was as blandly mediocre as I remember. Also, while Japan at the time was making a big ole deal about keeping your mask on while you eat, no one on the plane appeared to be particularly concerned with doing so.
3- No one in America wears a mask, not even the people who aren’t total asswagons.
Maybe it’s just because I’ve spent the majority of the pandemic in Japan, a country where everyone has generally been pretty good about wearing masks even before COVID-19 became a thing, but my experience post-airport in America over the last month and a half has been that the only ones who’ve been consistently wearing masks around here are people very concerned with their health and Asians who are probably wearing masks primarily so dumbass white dudes can’t shout at them about them being the sole cause of the global pandemic somehow. I tried to be pretty diligent about wearing my mask out and about fore the first week or so but then eventually gave up aside from whenever signs were posted. No, I don’t feel particularly great about it.
4- America’s incredibly inefficient and expensive healthcare system probably also helped it power through the vaccination process like Joey Chestnut mowing down Nathan’s Hot Dogs on the 4th of July.
Self explanitory but, as a dude who has been living under the umbrella of single-payer health care in Japan for the past eight years, it would seem to me that while the American medical complex seems to be a wholly expensive practice in bureaucratic nonsense and single-minded cashgrabs that result in things like a rampant opioid addiction crisis that only got worse in the year that COVID-19 shut down the world, it also allowed companies and states and local bureaucratic structures the freedom to create an entirely new vaccination infrastructure on the fly.
5- It is incredibly easy, like too easy, to get a COVID-19 vaccine in the states.
I got off my plane in San Francisco on April 25th. By noon of the next day, I already had gotten my first dose of the Pfizer vaccine and the mass vaccination site I had booked an appointment for had several thousand empty slots on the day that I went. Seriously folks, get vaccinated.
6- I guess… the pandemic is over now?
I’m writing this on June 16th. As of yesterday, my homestate of California has pretty much completely returned everything back to normal aside from you having to wear a mask on trains or at the DMV or something. Apparently COVID has claimed more life this year than it did all of last year and the Delta variant is still running rampant. Apparently the thinking of state governments and whoever is in charge of running things and deciding when anti-contagion measures is necessary when it comes to the unvaccinated or kids who still aren’t allowed to get vaccinated is “Haha screw those guys.” But I’m no mind reader.
I was initially supposed to return to Japan at the end of May but, thanks to Japan continuing to engage in an unending game of “ruin everyone’s lives so we can host the Olympics” and hoisting a variety of requirements on anyone trying to get into the country be they citizen or VISA holder (sorry tourists but you won’t be allowed back into Japan until sometime in the late 2050s), I am still here in America a half month later than expected with no idea when I’ll be back in Tokyo.
I’m still paying rent for my apartment and my comedy partner is increasingly annoyed with me and wants me to be back in Japan by next week (jokes on him, even if I did get back into the country by then, I’d still be stuck in quarantine until early July despite being fully vaccinated) but the pandemic shows no real signs of slowing down in Japan and the Olympics starting in a month only leads me to believe that things are going to get worse in Japan again before they really get better. Meanwhile, here in America, I have free room and board (thanks Mom and Dad!) and things are getting back to normal (mostly because everyone is trying to pretend so) much sooner than they will be in Japan. And I can do all my translation work remotely while the State of Emergency also limits the amount of actual in-person comedy work I could be doing in Japan anyways. So what’s the rush?