Living in the Age of Corona – CokoGuri and the New Lifestyle
How We Adapted to the New Lifestyle
It doesn’t seem all that long ago since Coco and I got up before dawn, climbed up a mountain, and greeted the first sunrise of 2020. Like most people, we started 2020 full of expectations, plans, and dreams. For me, this year had even more meaning; I was born in the Year of the Rat. This was supposed to be my year. Living in the age of Corona was not part of it.
Of course, we were aware of a new virus outbreak in China. But we were not really that concerned at the beginning of the year. Virus outbreaks are not that uncommon, and we remembered SARS and MERS. They were isolated, and to be honest, we did not pay much attention to them either. And Wuhan was a long way from Sendai.
Changes Were Creeping In
It wasn’t until February that we started noticing the first changes. In Japan, wearing face masks is commonplace during the winter month. Most people wear them to protect themselves from cold and flu viruses. Plus, face masks keep your face warm, and they eliminate the need to shave or put on makeup. We learned to appreciate the latter.
It was not until we went out for Coco’s birthday dinner in February that we noticed a change. The staff at the Westin Hotel in Sendai apologized for wearing face masks while serving us. The measure was not intended to frighten or concern us, but merely out of an abundance of caution. Living in the age of Corona required a new way of thinking. We didn’t mind.
Are You Planning to Visit?
Around the same time, we were expecting visits from friends from Seattle. Coco and I had a blast planning where to take them to give them the best possible experience of Sendai. We explored options, checked out rooftop restaurants and bars, and planned our days accordingly. That we were living in the age of Corona had not really registered yet. I remember the first time I consciously thought about it was in late February.
A friend of ours wanted to know if he could come and visit in March. Sure, I told him. It is no problem for us, but you may have difficulties returning to the US. The new reality was setting in. The first cases of Corona were appearing in Japan, and everyone was getting a little nervous.
A good friend of ours decided to cancel her trip to Japan. It was not an easy decision for her; it would have been the 10th anniversary of her husband’s death, an important milestone to be observed. And she was looking forward to visiting family and friends. But the likelihood of canceled flights and potential quarantines was just too great. Living in the age of Corona would affect a lot more aspects of our lives soon.
What Do You Mean You Are Out of Toilet Paper?
The first serious indication that life in the age of Corona would be a lot different came one sunny Sunday afternoon in March. We were running out of toilet paper and needed a few other things, so we planned a trip to the local drugstore. Not a big deal, right? Boy, were we wrong! There was no toilet paper. Zilch! Nada!
Oh well, that’s not the only drugstore. Let’s keep looking. Funny how simple these delusions seemed at the time. Throughout an afternoon, we visited several drug and grocery stores, all without luck! The usually overflowing stacks of paper products had disappeared. There was no toilet paper, no tissues, no paper towels to be found anywhere. I remember I mentioned to Coco that never in my wildest dreams had I thought I would not be able buy toilet paper.
The Hunt Continues
It was like this for a while. We made a habit of checking drug stores, our local Family Mart, and grocery stores daily. We were not entirely out, and we conserved what we had. But this was getting serious. One day on our way to the grocery store, we noticed a young woman walking towards us, carrying a 12 pack of toilet paper! We recognized the shopping bag from the local home improvement store across the street, and you can bet we made a beeline for it!
Yes! The had a supply of those precious little square white sheets! One package per customer, please! Rationing was becoming a part of living in the age of Corona. This time we worked around that by entering the store separately and each purchasing a 12 pack. After all, this was an emergency, you know!
Having a supply of toilet paper, face masks, hand sanitizer, and paper tissues became an essential aspect of living in the age of Corona. Luckily, we had an adequate supply of face masks from the previous winter, and we found out that our local garden store could get them as well. And friends and family were willing to share their supplies as well. Toilet and tissue paper were a different issue; sometimes, you could get them, and sometimes you were out of luck. We never did find hand sanitizer until a few weeks ago.
So Much for Family Time
As the number of cases of COVID-19 kept rising in Japan, everyone became more and more concerned. Schools and many businesses were closed. The government promised a mask in every household! And daily life pretty much ground to a halt.
For us, the most significant change of living in the age of Corona was the interaction with our family. After all, spending quality time with family was one of the key reasons we moved here from Seattle. But suddenly, spending family time together, or even going to see family, took on a whole new meaning.
Even with face masks, Coco and I did not feel comfortable riding our local Senzan Sen commuter train anymore. It was usually pretty packed, especially during rush hour, so social distancing didn’t really work. Luckily the family home in Nakayama was within walking distance. We enjoyed the walk and discovered a whole new part of the city. And during spring, before the rainy season, the weather was nice and pleasant. Coco and I walk a lot anyway, so this was not a significant change for us. But there was more to come.
Our biggest concern was the health of Coco’s Oka-San. At her age, she was in what was considered the at-risk category. As a family, we made the decision to keep visits to a bare minimum. Coco and I started dropping off food instead of coming for dinner. On lovely days we simply sat outside, a safe distance apart. Many days we did not visit at all. The saddest aspect of living in the age of Corona was not being able to celebrate Oka-San’s birthday together.
Working and Being Stimulated
Both of us are very fortunate that we can work from home. This allowed us to keep working and earning our regular income while living in the age of Corona. We have worked online for so long now that it is second nature to us.
My work as an editor and native checker at Tohoku University is all done via email. Project info and details are sent via email, and I email any questions or the final deliverables. The only thing I must do in person is drop off the accounting invoice at my local mailbox.
Coco designs websites the same way. Any interaction with clients is via text message or email. Files are exchanged via Dropbox. Invoices are generated online, and both of us get paid directly in our bank account. While we had to adjust our personal lives living in the age of Corona had no effect on our professional lives. This did make things a lot easier.
It also helped that both of us got stimulus payments from the government. At first, we were unsure if I would be eligible since I am only a permanent resident. Both of us getting stimulated helped cover our bills for a few months.
The New Reality Hits
To tell you the truth, things did seem a bit surreal at the beginning. We live close to several schools, and the bells ringing at the beginning and end of class were part of our background noise. Seeing the scores of school children in their different uniforms was part of our daily lives. We missed both.
While Japan and Sendai did not have a lockdown, many businesses closed voluntarily. Usually, our shopping arcades are packed with people. But from March to the beginning of May they were deserted. The usually busy main floor of Sendai Station was much less crowded, and the shopping and restaurant levels closed completely.
Commuter trains like the Senzan line behind our building were still running. Especially at rush hour, the four cars used to be packed like sardines. Not anymore! One day I counted only seven people on the afternoon train! Buses and subways were equally deserted.
We did notice two positive changes. With everyone asked to stay at home and avoid going out as much as possible most residents started focusing on families and homes. We noticed a lot more parents, especially fathers, playing with their kids in the street in front of their homes, or camping out in the back yard. Gardening is always a popular pastime in Japan. But this year hobby horticulturists took it to a new level. By April most stores had supplies of toilet paper again. But potting soil became hard to find!
We Just Have to Live with It
Putting on a face mask is as routine as putting on your shoes as you leave the house. We carry hand sanitizer and use it dozens of times when we are out. We rigorously wash our hands every time we come home.
In stores and restaurants, we expect to have our temperature taken before we can enter. When we recently took a cruise on Matsushima Bay our temperature was checked, and our hands sanitized before we could pay or walk onboard. Like everyone else we patiently wait in the marked squares to pay at the store.
We Miss Going Out, Traveling, and Our Friends!
For those of you who know us well, you know we love being social. We go out to eat, to visit with friends, and to travel to see new places. Or simply to visit friends. Living in the age of Corona pretty much put an end to that.
The first thing we had to give up was all our travel plans. Going to Taiwan to eat dumplings on Coco’s birthday did not happen. We planned a trip to Europe in the spring to surprise my sister on her birthday. No surprise that there was no surprise. At least with so many family birthdays on hold, none of us are getting any older!
We also had to cancel trips to Tokyo and Kyoto to visit friends and attend to some business. Living in the age of Corona made homebodies of us.
We Discover a New Favorite Restaurant
Another thing that we loved to do was to go out and eat. From Ramen to Yakitori, and from seafood to street food, we loved and ate it all. Would living in the age of Corona rob us of one of our favorite pastimes? Not necessarily!
As you know, Coco is a fabulous cook and loves exploring new dishes and recipes. When going out was out, we simply started eating out at our place. Our new favorite restaurant became Coco’s Kitchen!
Japanese, Italian, Spanish, German and French cuisine and dishes kept us happily eating at home. Coco was in her element researching, creating, and perfecting all kinds of new dishes and recipes. I was in my element sampling and eating them all. The money we saved by not going out allowed us to splurge a bit more on our grocery shopping.
The Drive-By Meeting
Getting together with our friends was another aspect of our routine we missed. Living in the age of Corona eliminated meeting over drinks or dinner. Of course, you can chat and text on WhatsApp or LINE, but what if you really want to see your friends in person? Maybe to exchange gifts or drop something off. Enter the drive-by meeting.
We are lucky that we have a big parking lot at our building. Many of our friends live nearby, so our street is on their way home or not that far off. As a result, we started seeing our friends on the sidewalk or in the parking lot. A quick text message to confirm the time, or simply tell us they would be passing by in ten minutes, was all it takes. Put on your face mask, run downstairs, and spend a few minutes of quality time, all while social distancing, of course!
Getting Back to Normal, Sort Of
Yes, living in the age of Corona required us to make some changes. But neither of us feel that they were such a big deal. We can’t make COVID-19 go away, so we must adapt and live with it.
Here in Sendai and Miyagi Prefecture, we are fortunate; we freely admit and acknowledge that. In all of Miyagi, we have 204 cases and two deaths, out of a population of well over two million. By working together and doing the right thing, we could avoid the worst of the pandemic.
Face Masks Are a Fashion Statement
Wearing face masks has always been standard practice in Japan. Especially during the flu or allergy season, most people wear them to protect themselves and their people. Coco and I wear face masks for two primary reasons: We don’t want to catch the virus. And we care enough for the people around us that we don’t want them to catch it either. This has nothing to do with personal freedoms. To be honest, we don’t really like wearing a face mask in 100-degree heat. But we respect the people around us enough to wear them regardless.
Here in Japan, face masks come in an almost endless variety of styles and designs. From more conservative to bold and fashionable, there is something for every style and taste. Even the wife of the Miyagi Governor designed one!
We Go Out Again
After several months of pretty much staying to ourselves, we started going out again. Living in the age of Corona simply means planning a bit more. For instance, we still avoid trains and subways during busy times. We go to stores like Ikea and Costco on weekdays rather than weekends. And we spend a lot more time outdoors than inside.
One of the things we are discovering are restaurants with outside seating. One of our current favorites is an outdoor plaza with several different restaurants near Sendai Station. We feel safer being outside than inside, especially in crowded spaces. We only ate inside a restaurant a few times since Coco’s birthday in February, always with proper social distancing, of course.
Instead, we grab a cold beer or two for Coco, iced coffee, and ice cream for me, and a few snacks. We sit in Dainohara Shinrin Koen or Tsutsujigaoka Park, or under the trees on Jozenji-dori. Cheaper and a lot more fun than sitting in an izakaya during this time of year.
Day Trips Instead of Overnight Trips
The last time we took a trip was to eat seafood in Shiogama in February. And to take the Senzan Sen line to Yamagata and back in early March. Other than that, we pretty much stayed close to home in Sendai. No trips to Tokyo or Yokohama for us. Travel between prefectures is still not encouraged. Coco and I are still debating if we will go to Tokyo before the end of the year.
But recently, we started taking day trips again. Especially on weekdays, we feel pretty safe doing that. Together with a friend, we drove to see the famous Jogi Nyorai Saihoji Temple and visit the 400-year-old Jogi Tofuten during the Obon summer holiday. We even took a side trip to visit the famous Akiu Falls. It was both hot and refreshing to climb all the way down to the Akiu river and back up again on a scorching day.
Other trips included eating seafood in Shiogama for our 22nd wedding anniversary in July, and a rip to Matsushima Bay two weeks ago. We visited Matsushima Bay last year, but this trip, we took a sightseeing cruise on the bay and visited the botanical reserve on Fukuurajima Island.
Once the weather cools down, we plan a visit to Yamadera to climb up the 1,200 steps to the famous Godaido Hall. We may need to practice by climbing the 200 steps to the Shiogama shrine first.
Enjoying Life during the Age of Corona
We found that we can enjoy life in the age of Corona. Sitting on our balcony, surrounded by our garden, and enjoying our view is special to us. Taking a bike ride to Nishi Park is refreshing fun. We love it when family comes for Sunday lunch, or when we go to bring them Saturday dinner.
We are still exploring new areas of Sendai. And discovering fascinating new places and neighborhoods.
Living in the Age of Corona: And Life Goes On
By now, living in the age of Corona is the new normal. Coco and I have adapted to the new lifestyle. While we miss certain things, we can cope just fine until a vaccine is developed.
We decided on the middle ground between hiding from the virus at home under the covers, or completely ignoring the dangers of COVID-19. Neither of those options is viable, healthy, or sane.
We take calculated risks and all the proper precautions. Living in the age of Corona is the new normal. This virus will always be with us, so we must learn how to live with it. For us, that means practicing the new lifestyle.
We gave up a few of our privileges and accepted some new limitations. And we discovered along the way that life is still pretty darn awesome. Coco and I are not about to let this virus destroy us, our lives, or our future plans.
We Are Here for You!
We understand that living in the age of Corona presents many challenges. Some of you may feel frustrated, confused, or simply overwhelmed. We want you to know that cokoguri is here for you!
Please feel free to contact us if you need someone to talk to, share some tips or resources, or simply say konnichi-wa.
Stay safe and healthy!