A week ago last Wednesday when we had dinner at our son’s we asked for updates about the current coronavirus situation in Japan. We had read a few articles online but have relied more on M & M for current news and updates. Nothing they said that evening alarmed us, and the strongest warning they gave us was to avoid bringing the kids through crowded train stations, like Shibuya, and use buses if possible. However, there was no recommendation for us to wear masks, or avoiding the big stations. Neither seemed to have any concerns about our plans, including trips to Tokyo Station or Shinjuku (the world’s busiest train station), so we went ahead with our (successful) Tokyo Station KitKat hunt at the end of last week.
But by Sunday, the day of our family outing to Chichibu, things had changed. There were more reported cases of the virus in Japan, and two more deaths (one from someone who had been quarantined on the cruise ship). Face masks had completely disappeared from the shelves in Tokyo and were continuing to disappear as fast as they were stocked. We’ve been unable to find any hand sanitizer anywhere. We bought the last two refill pouches of disinfecting soap in a neighborhood drugstore, but otherwise, shelves in Tokyo are bare of anything disinfectant as well as face masks and sanitizer. The government advised that no one do any unnecessary travel in Tokyo; that is, if you didn’t need to go somewhere (like work, child pick-up, medical appointments, food shopping, etc.) you should stay home or at least stay close to home unless traveling by personal car.
More recommendations came out today and our son will begin working from home next week; his company has recommended that all who can do so. Our DIL has to ride the train to and from work, but she has a good supply of masks and sanitizer. Because he’ll be home, M will be picking up both kids as he’ll have the car, so Brett and I are now out of a job for the time being, and we’ll probably only see them on weekends.
One interesting thing both of us noticed today though was that fewer people appeared to be wearing masks than had been previously. We’re not sure if that’s because they’ve run out of masks, are not as worried as might have initially been, or they’re rationing their masks to have some if things get worse. Supposedly the government has ordered mass production of face masks, but that hasn’t happened yet.
Our son was more than a little surprised to learn that we had gone to Tokyo Station last Friday, especially after the government warning (which we had to remind him we had not heard at that point). We had noticed that the trains we took that day were almost empty, although when we arrived in Tokyo it seemed the station was as crowded as ever. We still went on our trip up to Chichibu on Sunday but in a rented minivan, and we spent a good deal of time outside and ate our meals in uncrowded (and lovely) restaurants away from the tourist areas.
It was disappointing to have to cancel our outing to Shinjuku that we had planned for this week. We were going to visit a store called Bingoya, with five floors filled with traditional Japanese crafts, from pottery to fabric/clothing to baskets to toys and beyond. Getting to look at all of that would have been my idea of heaven, and I was hoping to find an affordable, hand-woven bamboo shopping basket while we were there. I gave away my previous one when we left Hawaii and have missed it greatly.
Sometimes things have a way of working out though. After we had eaten lunch on Sunday, we walked down an old-style shopping street as we headed back to our car. And there, sitting in the back of one store, were handmade woven bamboo shopping baskets! They came in two colors, natural and stained, and with strong support on the bottom and reinforced corners. Brett and I looked them over and picked out the one in the picture above. My new basket is also the right size to slide under the seat in front of us on the plane and will most likely leave Japan full of KitKats. Getting the basket almost made up for not being able to visit Bingoya, but truthfully, I’m glad we didn’t have to navigate through the immense Shibuya and Shinjuku stations.
For now, we are in a holding pattern as far as outings and such and will be sticking closer to home. Brett has found bus routes to get us places so we can avoid train stations, and we see lots of walking in our future. At this point, we are only slightly worried about our flights in April, and any possible precautions we may have to make then. We will continue to ask for and follow updates, but for now, we will stay cautious, continue to try and find hand sanitizer and masks, use good handwashing techniques, and be ready to change or update what we’re doing as the situation demands.