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Category: Life in Japan (page 1 of 1)

How to survive hotel quarantine

While a nice view can help, it won’t get you all the way through a long hotel quarantine.

It’s been almost two years since the start of the pandemic. You probably think you’ve got everything COVID-19 related down pat. But trust me, if you’ve never experienced it, a good, long hotel quarantine can make you second guess just how “resilient” you are on a whole ‘nother level.

Whether you’re single or not, have kids or not, at some point or another the COVID fairy will probably touch your life too and that’s when you’ll be glad you got these tips.

Those travelling to the U.S. can probably skip this article — for better or worse, the U.S. doesn’t require quarantine for anyone! Not even those who tested positive after arriving.

But all travelers to Japan will “enjoy” a hotel quarantine of anywhere from 3 days to two weeks or longer, depending on the complicated algebra of who in your party has tested positive and when. In any case, my big take away is to prepare for the worst before you arrive in Japan. Once you arrive here, you will have little freedom to make the preparations you wish you had.

Prepare for boredom

Being stuck in the same room for days will make you bored on a level you may never have encountered before. So whatever you did to prepare for that “long” flight? Do that, times ten.

Identify some of your favorite content and leave it untouched until you reach the hotel. If you’re not working, you’ll have way too much time. You’ll be thinking about how long you can sleep just the pass the time. Even if you sleep 10, 12 hours, you still have 12-14 hours left to fill.

This is the perfect time to binge watch or read … anything.

Find joy in little routines

We all have our routines and hotel quarantine is a great way to ruin them. Instead, create new routines. Like to go for a run? Do one, or two, or even three online exercise classes a day. Not only will moving your body help cut through the monotony, it will help you feel better and give your day structure.

You can even *gasp* take a bath once or even twice a day just because you feel like it. For bath lovers, this might be one of the rare advantages of hotel quarantine.

Set small, achievable goals each day

Who says you have to put your life on hold because you’re in hotel quarantine? Actually, I’ve been keeping up my job search and professional studies during quarantine. It’s key to not set your goals too high so you don’t risk disappointing yourself but just high enough so they’re still motivating.

Connect with friends and family

The loneliness and isolation of quarantine, even just a few days, is real! Don’t hesitate to set up video chats with friends and family to connect and make your day a little brighter.

Get the good stuff

Love cookies? A particular type of herbal tea? Potato chips? Well, you most certainly won’t get them in quarantine. So whether you pack them in your bags ahead of time or order them through an e-commerce site, make sure you have some of your favorite comfort foods on hand just to get through the long days. This is doubly true on the days when meals are distributed late.

Mine are chocolate and coffee by the way. Yes, our hotel didn’t even have coffee ;(

In Japan, they’ll give you mountains of green tea but you have to supply the coffee yourself.

Use new-found time to start a new healthy habit

Like working from home, hotel quarantine creates a lot of new time because, well, you’re not going anywhere. Is there a daily habit like yoga, writing or meditation you’ve been wanting to start? Now’s a great time.

If you are one of the lucky folks who get to quarantine with family, well, welcome to the club. Quarantining with small children who don’t understand boundaries, aren’t good at entertaining themselves and may not respect your need for relaxation time can make it even more challenging. While there is no perfect solution, doing some of these things can help make it better:

  • Find something you can both enjoy doing together. For my daughter and I, it is online dance lessons
  • Rotate toys and suggest things for them to do at any time of morning, afternoon or evening. Even a bath might keep them entertained.
  • Be willing to break rules about screen time, snack time, etc. Consider this an emergency situation with exceptions that need to be made to maintain everyone’s sanity!
  • Be ready to stop what you want to do to accommodate their wishes, though it might feel like the hundredth time.
  • Set up video chats with other family members when they can entertain the child by reading books, etc.

Time can pass slowly while quarantining, especially with family, so those who can master their mental state will come out of quarantine feeling much better. As the saying goes, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” In other words, find ways to make quarantine work for you. Looking at it another way, is there any better time to create quality time with your children? Teach them how to read? Potty train them? Figure out a way to make quarantine work for you and you’ll be much happier.

Everyone’s quarantine experience is different, so these tips won’t work for everyone. The important part is to not give up in despair during quarantine. With a little flexibility, even quarantine can be a positive experience (even if barely!).

Perhaps the most important tip:

When entering Japan, there’s always the chance your hotel quarantine could be extended by an unforseen positive COVID-19 test. So plan and pack with that in mind.

It’s good practice not to promise to meet anyone in person for the two weeks after you arrive, but it will also keep you from having to change plans on the off chance you test positive at the airport upon arrival. This also goes for what you pack. Make sure you have whatever you might need to stay happy during a two-week stay, or that you’re willing to buy it online.

Have any tips from your hotel quarantine? Let me know in the comments!

Some other tips from social media:

Welcoming 2021, even if reluctantly

Countries around the world are in lockdown over the winter holiday season, with various degrees of restrictions. As an American in Tokyo, Japan has felt like a miraculous bubble of normality in contrast with the strict regulations and rapid spread of COVID-19 in the past 9 months of countries like the USA, UK and other heavily-affected countries.

In fact, Japan has only ever had one incident even closely resembling a “lockdown,” which is the State of Emergency that was declared for the period of April 7 to May 25 2020. Since then, various levels of requests have been directed at businesses and travelers about what not to do, but nothing with major enforcement power (実行力) has been set forth. This is due to a lack of legal basis for restriction of travel and other behavior — at most the government can do is strongly request. The situation promises to change, however, as Prime Minister Suga aims to revise a relevant law that would make restrictions on businesses more powerful in the Diet session scheduled to start mid January.

Infection has spread gradually until December 2020, when numbers began to rise rapidly. As I write now, the Mayor of Tokyo has requested the national government declare a State of Emergency again, as soon as possible. The national government is now “considering and consulting with experts.” (Twitterverse has much to say about that: “And what have you been doing up ’til now!?”) Yet, the popular opinion is that the Prime Minister will wait until the law is revised.

Despite the hurricane of COVID-19 ravishing several countries around the world, and the gradually increasing tension in Japan, our small family was able to have a Christmas and New Year’s on par with previous years. One big factor in this is that we are the “Tokyo office” of a much larger firm (read: family) headquartered in Seattle. All of my Christmases have been remote since moving to Japan in October 2011. In that sense, COVID-19 has been a great equalizer because now my American family all, for the most part, connect via video chat. We’ve learned that length of call and seriousness of topic are inversely proportional to the number of participants. We’ve learned not to talk all at the same time. And we’ve learned who to mix and match together. It’s rather businesslike, in a good way. Bonus: I can blame my Christmas presents arriving late to the US due to a major back-up in postal deliveries. This is no joke. When I mailed the presents in November, I was told only via land was available and that they would arrive anywhere between 1 and 3 months later. C’est comme ça.

This holiday season has been a mixed bag. Our family is happy and healthy and our daughter is completely unaware of the extraordinary pandemic. I somehow achieved a personal best at the casual half marathon on December 24, held along the Arakawa River. No warm up but an inkling that I could run a little faster, and lazy competitiveness netted me a time of 1:38:42. This is a full 3 minutes under my previous half marathon PB recorded at a real race — the Tsurugaoka Half Marathon — which I properly trained for. Just another lesson that the universe works in mysterious ways.

Like divorced families with dual custody (that was my family!), bicultural families get to celebrate twice: Christmas and the Japanese new year, oshogatsu. We, of course, take full advantage of this.

Starting off with a local brew from Oregon supplied by my brother, imbibed on New Year’s Eve and culminating in the once-in-a-lifetime, “because COVID-19” splurge purchase of an extravagant new years meal (osechiryouri) by my mother-in-law, this year was by no means lacking. In the back of all of our minds was the likelihood that things would get worse before they would get better, and that we better get while the getting is good. It’s this kind of indulgence that helps catapult us into the self-improvement regimes that are so common during the New Year.

And this year’s omikuji (fortune) was not letting me off the hook. For the last couple years, I’ve been blessed with fortunes on the “lucky” side of the spectrum and life has followed suite. This year gave me a 末吉 suekichi (AKA, not quite lucky). It’s situated so on the grade of luck, with leftmost being most lucky:

大吉 ⇒ 中吉 ⇒ 小吉 ⇒ 吉 ⇒ 末吉 ⇒ 凶 ⇒ 大凶

According to Japanfreak.com,

大吉-Daikichi: Excellent luck, Great luck, Great blessing
中吉-Tyukichi: Fair luck, some luck, Middle blessing
小吉-Syoukichi: A little luck, Small blessing
吉-Kichi:  Good luck, Blessing
末吉-Suekichi: Uncertain luck, Least blessing, Ending blessing, Near blessing
凶-Kyou:  Bad luck, Curse
大凶-Daikyo: Terrible luck, Certain disaster, Great curse


The omikuji came as a little bit of a wake-up-call. “Don’t take your fortune for granted,” it told me. I was to strive hard at work and at my studies. “But I finished my Masters already!” I thought defiantly.

I can’t deny that there is a kernel of truth in its terse instructions. In my field of communications, one is never done learning. One has to constantly update best practices, keep an ear to the ground for consumer sentiment, and put out high-quality content in order to make the most of the current business situation and achieve the best possible results. This imperative is even more urgent during a global pandemic.

The omikuji was just a gentle reminder that a new year didn’t mean I could just coast. That said, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, so I will mix it up this year and challenge myself. More to write on that later.

Thanks to this reminder, I feel that I can pry myself from the myopia that is a new Netflix subscription and delicious holiday food to transition into a proactive and constructive space new year.

I still haven’t colored in the eye of my daruma and set my goal for this year. That’s on my to-do list.

“planet daruma” by Alessandro Grussu is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

How did this holiday season bring you into the new year? Any realizations or new endeavors in 2021?

Cafes bustle while sento disappear — how is your neighborhood changing?

It’s been over four months since the explosion of COVID-19 infections around the world. While you’ve been cooped indoors, how has your neighborhood been changing?

One of the bright spots of social distancing is walks. That time we might have spent commuting to some other area, we now spend traversing the roads and alleys connecting back to our homes, maybe taking the time to greet the local cats.

Local cats seem to be properly cautious, maintaining social distance.

What have you discovered? How has your neighborhood changed?

My neighborhood in northwest Tokyo is a an old shitamachi, a traditionally residential neighborhood populated with independently run shops, restaurants, and Japanese-style snack stands. Private business owners have been hit hard by the pandemic, yet our neighborhood seems to be bustling.

Low infection levels in Tokyo mean that businesses can operate with almost no restriction, though all restaurant staff wear masks and do the best they can to distance diners, ventilate, and separate.

Thoroughly branded protective sheets at a Tully’s in Sunshine Aquarium in Ikebukuro.

At Ueno’s Ameyokochou, an outside market launched during World War II as a black market, there is a whole new stand dedicated to COVID-19 protective equipment.

Protective equipment stand in Ueno’s Ameyokochou market

Any retail store seems to offer masks, hand sanitizer, etc. Even vegetable stands in the Japanese countryside are offering handmade cloth masks as a sort of new-normal handicraft.

At the same time, prevailing trends are slowly but surely underway. Privately-run B&Bs and restaurants with elderly owners in Japan have decided to shut their doors early as the risks of operation have exceed the rewards.

Sento, or public baths, have always been run on razor-thin profit margins. In just 15 years, the number of sento in Tokyo have dropped by 50 percent.

A sento being demolished in Arakawa Ward, Spring 2020. Hand-painted mountains are a staple of sento design.

“Corona bankruptcy” has been warned against by experts in Japan, but as of yet, less than 500 businesses have reported COVID-19 as a reason for their bankruptcy since January 2020. Amidst this, Tokyo has the highest number and some experts predict the surge is yet to come.

But some businesses will continue to thrive — essential businesses, obviously, but even non-essential “third-place” businesses seem to be going strong.

Ironically, while I write this in my local coffee shop, masked up, I am surrounded by full tables of locals to whom I will never speak. Working from home frees us to spend more time in our neighborhoods. At the same time, public health restrictions have eliminated festivals, events, parties and any other opportunity to organically meet and get to know new people.

We are in the same place, but we are, quite literally, socially distant.

Our local cafe on a Wednesday afternoon

Our attention, which might be turned towards networking and getting to know our neighbors, is instead directed towards our physical environment and the movement of people around us. The writer continues to observe.

How have you observed your neighborhood changing? For better? For worse? Let me know in the comments or in the poll up top.

I got a PCR Test in Japan (lucky me)

In Japan, PCR tests are as precious as gold and much, much rarer. If you don’t have above 37.5 degree temperature, contact history with someone who has tested positive, you have to do some serious arm twisting to get one.

Sunday night. After a good, hard work out I started having some muscle pains. Okay, so I’m approaching my mid-thirties, not too surprising? But the muscle pains spread to my whole body and my throat is sore. Monday morning. Muscle pains still live and well and now my body doesn’t want to get out of bed. After the obligatory Google search of my symptoms, I conclude it could be a lot of different things, but I can’t rule out COVID-19. Not to mention that Minister Nishimura has just publicly asked anyone with discomfort in their throat to stay within their prefecture.

Unluckily, I had lost my thermometer (I’m tempted to blame my toddler) so I had no idea of my real temperature. Weakness number one.

Faithfully, I called the Tokyo COVID-19 Consultation Hotline to report my symptoms. “Have you been in close contact with someone who has tested positive?” “I don’t know.” “Hmmm, and your temperature is how much?” “I don’t know, maybe 37.3?” “And your regular temperature is?” “36.8?” “Your Japanese sounds like you are from a different country, where are you from?” “Why is that important?” “Well, you might have travelled outside of the country recently…” “Maybe you’re not aware, but foreigners cannot come back into Japan right now so that is impossible” … etc.

My next step, in any case, was to visit the closest designated clinic and be examined there.

At the clinic, I was directed to ring the bell, then guided into a partitioned-off section of the clinic which had a bench, hand sanitizer, and some kleenex. The doctor and nurses, all three wrapped up in PPE, asked me the same questions, but this time I took my temperature and it was 38.5. Well over the guideline of 37.5. Still, it took some pushing.

“So you said you haven’t been in close contact with someone who tested positive? Hmmm” “I don’t think so. But actually, XXXX.” (Information withheld for privacy reasons) “Ah, and so you are worried about that?” “I think I should be?” “…Well, we are being told not to test right now, but okay, we’ll see what we can do.”

After a check with a large hospital two stops away, the doctor found out that there was a 3-day waiting period. Thankfully, I was given another option of a university hospital a 20-minute walk from my house. “Tell absolutely no one where this testing site is,” I was cautioned.

The next morning at 10am, I arrived, showed my letter of introduction, and sat in a partitioned area with emergency tape enforcing social distancing in the seats. An elderly couple sat in front of me, the woman with an ice pack wrapped in a scarf and applied to her neck. “What could have brought them here,” I wondered. On my left was a middle-aged man. A well-dressed and sprightly man distributed forms confirming our agreement to receive the test, coming and going with a waft of cologne. Finally , it’s my turn.

I’m guided quickly into another room partitioned off and ushered behind a DIY-ed plastic shield of sorts with holes for the medical practitioner’s hands. “I’ll swab both of your nostrils, so please lift your chin up.” Jab. The swab was stuck deep in my left nostril into soft tissue I had never been aware of. “We’ll keep it here for 5 seconds and then do the right side.” My eyes teared up. It was over, and I left the hospital crying and a little shell-shocked.

According to the documents, I’ll have my results in a day or two. Fingers crossed it’s just a cold or something.

Update: 6 hours after my test, the results are in, and I am negative. Phew.