An unexpected turn

After four years and two months in Japan, the end of my assignment is quickly approaching. With a scheduled return to the US at the end of May, our plan was to do as much as possible these last few months. See places we haven’t yet had time to go, like Osaka. Return to places we visited but didn’t have enough time to enjoy, like Nikko. Enjoy the Sakura blossoms, and Hanami – flower viewing. Maybe even do some trips to other places in Asia, like Shanghai, Singapore, or Viet Nam.

Then, the world turned upside down — the Coronavirus pandemic.

In late January, we started hearing of this virus in China, and it sounded ominous. My company works with Chinese companies, and soon our travel was cancelled, and our plans for work were put on hold. Things seemed concerning…but we didn’t realize what would come.

The spread of the virus next really hit Korea. Again, we work with companies there, and they have employees that work in Tokyo. We started to see what a devastating impact the virus could have…and the impact on our company was growing greater.

Japan started seeing the virus, and was impacted most dramatically by the Diamond Princess cruise ship, that happened to be in Yokohama when an outbreak of the virus occurred on the ship. That brought home the potential of this as a real health threat.

By the end of February, Japan’s government took harsh actions. Schools were closed, companies were encouraged to have people work at home, many museums, amusement parks and tourist attractions were closed. It seemed drastic. But maybe not.

As the virus spread in Europe, and now in America, we’ve watched in concern and disbelief. In Japan, the virus seems – at least for now – to have plateaued. There are about 40 or fewer new cases per day…a small number, in a country so densely populated. We can only hope that the containment will continue.

For us, as expats, it was a shock to wake up on Saturday and find that the US had issued a Level 4 travel warning – which included a recommendation for US citizens living outside the country to return immediately, or be prepared to stay away for “an indefinite period.” How do we react to this? It’s pretty difficult to pack up everything, even in our small apartment, and be ready to leave immediately. And, is it really the best thing to get on a plane for 13 hours, and spend hours in an immigration line, to go into an escalating pandemic outbreak in the US?

There were no right or easy answers. After consultation with my company, we made decision to stay the course. We will plan to stay in Japan, and return at the end of May, as planned. Hopefully, that will prove to be the right decision…only time will tell.

All in all, this isn’t the way we had planned to spend our last few months in Japan. Of course, our inconvenience is minor compared to the real suffering some are having to deal with. Still, it is disappointing that we will potentially end our time here in this way.

Someone asked us, will “Four years in Japan” turn into “Five years in Japan?” Well, probably not. Although we love living here, our time is nearly done. Whether we can return as scheduled or not depends on the progression of the virus in the US. We hope that things will get under control, and life will start to return to normal. Although we love Japan, and could live here forever, it is time to leave. We will see how things progress… one day at a time.

Tokyo Tower

The End is Near….

Everyone is familiar with the caricature…usually a bedraggled old guy, long beard, tattered clothes, holding a sign proclaiming, “the end is near.”

Lately, we’ve been feeling like that old guy. My assignment in Japan will end at the end of May… less than three months away. Plans are for my job to continue including work with Japan, but our time living here is…sadly…winding down. Although we look forward to returning back to the US in some ways, the realization that our time here coming to an end is discouraging.

We’ve also been discouraged about the political situation back home. Of course, our view from 6,000 miles away may be a bit skewed, as we look to Twitter and Facebook for most of our news. Still, the news is discouraging, and the idea of coming back to an acrimonious election campaign is not something we look forward to.

And now, our last days in Tokyo are being tainted by the threat of coronavirus. We watched as the virus first appeared in Wuhan, China. It has continued to spread, and Japan has become increasingly affected… as has the rest of the world. My company has cancelled or postponed international travel (my latest trip to UK was cancelled), and many other meetings and missions have been deferred. The Japanese government has taken Draconian measures in an effort to prevent spread of the virus. Schools are closed for the month of March, most museums and other attractions are closed, and workers are being encouraged to work from home. Locally, we see shortages of face masks, hand sanitizer, and even toilet paper (haven’t quite figured out that one yet).

So, frankly, we’ve been struggling a bit lately to stay positive and try to look forward to the coming months. It will, in many ways, be good to be “home.” But yet… we’ve been in Japan now for over four years, and Tokyo has become our home. We love our adopted city/country. Still, we look forward to going back to our house…our kitties…being closer to our family…and being in a place where we actually do speak and understand the language with some proficiency.

As the days continue to go by with alarming rapidity, we hope to make the most of each minute we have left in this wonderful place. We’ve been given a great gift to experience a different culture for this long. It truly has been the opportunity of a lifetime.