Georgia Rees also known as @georgiainjapan on Instagram, is an Australian Kindergarten teacher in Hiroshima, Japan (Western).
According the Georgia, Japan did not take the precautions she hoped for like her home country Australia did. Here is her #QuarantineJournal where she shares her personal experience with the coronavirus outbreak, her worries, thoughts, and how she is still grateful to have a job during this time.
For a time, Japan seemed to be at the forefront of innovative measures in the fight against COVID-19. It was the end of February, and in the middle of class on a Friday, we were informed that the Japanese Government had asked all schools to be closed from the next Monday for two weeks, to avoid the “critical” period. That day marked the end of the school year for our classes, and we had less than an hour to prepare the students and explain to them that we didn’t have four weeks left of the year, we had 45 minutes. It seemed like a bizarre and drastic move so early on, as it was the only law passed at the time, everyone else was still commuting to work, out-and-about on the streets, shopping and enjoying the warmth of the early spring sun.
As the rest of the world started closing their borders, introducing social-distancing and restricting the numbers of group gatherings, Japan’s schools opened back up and life went on as usual. Being an Australian, I was constantly updated by friends and family on the goings on in my home country, and as rules there became stricter and the panic started to rise, there was an eerie sense of calm here in Japan. An ignorance, almost. A false sense of security. I was confused, and frustrated. How could the streets of Italy be patrolled by police, ensuring people stayed in their homes while everyone here was allowed to enjoy Hanami (picnics under the cherry blossoms)? Why did I have to accept the fact that due to Australia’s strict border regulations I probably wouldn’t be able to see my family for two years while millions of people in Japan were still commuting to work, clubbing and travelling?
For a time, the number of cases weren’t rising, hospitals were not overrun with patients, people were not being found dead in their homes. What was happening? Was it luck? Was it the inbuilt Japanese culture of not touching others and wearing face masks? Was it because we’re an island? Was the government lying? Was it the lack of testing? Especially for me and my foreign friends who all have family in more COVID-19 devastated countries, we were perplexed.
And then, bam, the numbers started to rise. COVID-19 dominated the news and we watched as day-by-day cities beat their daily positive case record. And still, nothing. Sure, you couldn’t buy masks in the drug-stores and people glared at you if you coughed, but nothing actually changed. No preventative measures, no concrete, law-enforcing information from the Prime Minister, just “how to make your own masks” on TV. I was begged by my family to fly back to Australia while I still could, where regulations were stricter, positive case numbers were lower and quantity of tests per day was higher. At this time there were still a limited number of flights from Tokyo – Sydney that would, however, be grounded by the end of April. I had to choose fast, and I chose to stay. But in doing so I had to accept the fact that not only would I not see my family for an unknown length of time, but I was also putting myself at higher risk by staying in a country that seemed so hell-bent on ignoring the horn blaring in its face.
In the past few weeks, we’ve finally seen changes. A state of emergency was declared, first for the most severely affected cities, and then later for the rest of the nation. Schools were closed, shop opening hours were decreased, protective plastic sheets were placed in front of all cashiers, celebrities started releasing songs about washing hands and the Prime Minister released a video of how he relaxes at home. Granted, I live in Western Japan, an area not severely affected, and therefore a lot more relaxed than Tokyo or Osaka, however, from discussion with friends in those bigger cities, there still seems to be a general lack of concern for the recommendations placed by the government. Yes, you heard me, recommendations, not law. We are not in lockdown. There is no law enforcement. A nation can only be as strong as their leader and this country’s leader has kindly requested people stay at home and refrain from travel. Is it any wonder people are still out-and-about?
It has occurred to me that due to the first-hand knowledge I’m receiving from Australia and other countries, that it has caused me to hold a severe and cynical view on how the government in Japan has decided to deal with this situation. Because from what I have gathered, Japanese people don’t necessarily feel as strongly as I, or my foreign friends do.
I am still working. I work for an International Kindergarten that educates children of essential workers. So although schools in Japan are closed, facilities providing child-care must stay open for those in need. We are also providing online resources (videos, songs, story time) for the children stuck at home. Due to the smaller number of students attending the school, we are working less and therefore spending a lot more time at home. I’m grateful to be working. I’m grateful to still have an income, many foreigners working as English teachers here in Japan have been left with no job and no income.
News coming out of Australia now is showing a massive decline in positive cases – despite the increase in testing – businesses are opening back up, numbers in a group gathering have increased, they are able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Unfortunately in Japan, we haven’t even reached the peak yet. Because of this, it’s hard not to fall into hopelessness at the immensity of it all. So, for the moment, I’m trying to take it day-by-day, focusing on the students I am privileged to spend my time with, the meals I want to cook for dinner, and checking in with family regularly, as the uncertainty of the future is enough to make me want to hide under the blankets. I feel claustrophobic being an explorer in a world I can’t explore. Although this (kind of) quarantined, sedentary lifestyle has been an adjustment, I’m grateful for the normality my job brings, and I’ve learnt to love my slow-paced, Studio Ghibli sound tracked, jigsaw puzzle infused little life and have nothing but gratitude for the safety my tiny Japanese apartment provides.