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Surviving Coronavirus in a Tokyo Sharehouse

Hi everyone! This is Claire from Borderless House. This is my very first blog post as a staff member for Borderless, and I hope to provide lots of fun and interesting content for you all from now on!

Although there are many different topics that I am excited to write about, given the current situation in Japan as well as the rest of the world, my first post will be dedicated to discussing what life in Japan, specifically in a sharehouse in Tokyo, is like during this global pandemic. Although it is a very serious and heavy topic, it is extremely important to understand what we can do to protect ourselves as well as our friends and loved ones.

Current State of Emergency

As of April 7th, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has declared a state of emergency in Japan due to the virus. Although declaring a state of emergency does not automatically change any laws, it gives power to the prefecture leaders to take stronger safety measures such as requesting that schools and other public facilities close. While watching TV the other day, I listened as Tokyo residents were asked to stay in their house and only leave for “mandatory” reasons such as to see a doctor or shop for groceries. Residents were also asked to try and maintain a distance of 2 meters from each other. The current state of emergency is projected to last for 1 month.

My Quarantine Life

↑my work from home set-up

I currently live in a 15-person Borderless House share house in the center of Tokyo, which also is the center of the coronavirus outbreak in Tokyo. Given that I am in close contact with people every single day, some of whom are still required to leave the house daily to travel to their workplace, we need to be very careful to not spread the virus. As for myself and my Japanese roommate, we are both 100% working from home and spend all day, every day together. How’s that for bonding time?

It actually has been a very unique opportunity to learn more about the work that each of my housemates is doing as it is now quite common to overhear work-related talk when walking through the house. My roommate and I have bonded over nightly yoga, meditation and stretching, and can be caught bursting out in laughter as we send each other hilarious videos while relaxing before bed. I am so lucky to have friends to go through this stressful time with, as many individuals living alone in small Tokyo apartments have no in-person support.

Despite all these restrictions and fears, the house community is still as strong as ever. Even though we are no longer hosting nabe/takoyaki/okonomiyaki parties, or movie-watching nights in the common room, we are still able to have great conversations while cooking dinner or on break time from work. When together in common areas, we are sure to keep in mind our physical distance to each other; but while this physical distance has increased, I feel that our emotional distance has closed significantly. With limited contact to the outside world except through phone calls and Zoom meetings, we are now relying more than ever on our share house family for encouragement and strength.

Another benefit to living in an international share house during this pandemic is that I get live-translations of any new corona-related information. The coronavirus media announcements are almost exclusively made in Japanese, so for any foreigners who do not speak Japanese it is next to impossible to follow the frequent stream of information. Even for individuals who are advanced in their Japanese, most classes and language courses do not teach pandemic-related Japanese words, making it difficult to keep up. Foreigners are requested to register with their home country’s embassy for updates, which in my case come in the form of an English email a day or two after the Japanese press release. Before these emails are sent, however, I already have been debriefed by my housemates who help to translate any new information.

Although it has been sad to not be able to interact with my co-workers in the office or participate in our regular outdoor activities, I am learning to accept this new lifestyle as the new normal for at least the next month. I feel safe with my housemates and couldn't have asked for better quarantine buddies.

House Safety

↑disinfect to protect

Because of our large number of house residents, we are trying to take whatever measures necessary to stay safe and healthy. In response to the pandemic, Prime Minister Abe is providing each household with two reusable masks, which made my situation a bit comedic. 2 masks for 15 people?? Luckily, we were able to stock up on masks before they became unavailable, and we now have a house rule that anyone who leaves the house must wear a mask at all times. Immediately when entering the house, we all have agreed to wash our hands and spray ourselves down with the alcohol spray provided by Borderless House to disinfect ourselves. We have many thermometers stocked in the house and each measure our body temperature at least once a day to check for any possible symptoms. With these precautions I hope that we can all stay safe ourselves, and also prevent the coronavirus outbreak from becoming worse than it already is.

Will Preventative Measures Help and How?

On a slightly heavier note, when individuals in Tokyo are “requested” to stay indoors, or remain 2 meters apart, the use of a suggestion word is simply not strong enough.

There are many reasons why it is important to stay indoors right now, but two main ones are as follows: 1) to protect the health of others, and 2) to protect our health systems from being overrun. As a young, healthy individual, my risk of getting severly sick from the virus is low. However, this is just a statistic and not a fact. There are other healthy young individuals who have died from the virus. Also, older individuals or those with weaker immune systems cannot take any risks as this virus has been deadly for many. If not for yourself, for the sake of not catching and passing the virus to others, I am begging you to stay indoors as much as you are able. Staying inside is not fun, and you may have made plans which you were looking forward to for months already, but please do your part and be responsible. Let’s come together and support each other, but do so at a distance.

Recently the phrase “flatten the curve” has been very popular in the media. The second reason why we need to stay indoors is that our medical systems are not prepared to handle a global pandemic. If we all were to catch the coronavirus at the same time, there would not be enough beds, staff, or supplies to take care of all the patients. It is a fact that the virus will continue to spread and infect people, but our job is to slow that effect. The best way that we can achieve this is by limiting our contact with other people. You will have another chance to go to see your friends, to go out drinking, to go to karaoke, and to have picnics. For these two reasons, please take government recommendations very seriously, viewing them as more of a rule than a suggestion.

New Outlook

↑stretching inside all day keeps the Corona away

Despite seeing all the negative news and the frustration which is caused by constantly staying indoors, I feel that I have been able to gain a new perspective on life. I’m realizing that the stress and problems that I had before the virus started are not all that important. Life is beautiful, and even in the difficult times, I have been reminded to be thankful for this gift. I also am learning to spend more time with myself. For any individuals like me, who are 100% extroverted, self-isolation can feel like torture. I constantly try to fill my time with talking and interacting with others. However, I am now learning to spend more time alone and practice mindfulness and meditation. Many times we get so busy in life that we forget to take a break and rest.

I also have been able to set new goals for myself so that I can get up out of bed with a purpose each day. Recently I am working on doing the splits and handstands. Each day I take time to stretch and practice, and there is slow, but noticeable progress! During this pandemic, I would really recommend trying something new and seeing how much progress you can make. We don’t know how long these self-isolation measures will be in place, but it is important to focus on the future. Take some time to rest and reset, and let’s be sure that when these restrictions are lifted, we leave our houses with a more positive mindset and greater appreciation for life.

Stay safe and healthy everyone!


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