The new virus

Tokyo is functioning at 100% as usual.

Except a slight feeling of apocalyptic panic by the shelves in the supermarkets where you can usually find many many types of surgical masks.

The mask: a very common item in Japan throughout the year, used not only for reasons such as the common cold or a new virus. I usually don’t think much of it, except at times when a person who wears it is talking to me, and I find myself wishing I could see the lower part of their face.

The shelves are all empty of masks. Everywhere.

Today, I went around my neighborhood in Chiba on a quest to find masks, thinking it is far enough from central Tokyo, so I should be able to find some. After several konbini (convenience stores) and medical supermarkets, empty of masks, I realized the task might be more challenging than I thought.

At the next place I entered, I asked about the masks right away. The lady looked at me and I could see a sad smile behind her own mask. She apologized and said they run out. I asked about Alcohol-based hand sanitizer bottles instead. Pointing at a small, traveling size one that I have attached to my backpack. She went with me to the area of soaps in the store, where we discovered another empty body of naked shelves. She apologized again and straight bowed her head.

I continued.

It seemed like everyone around me was looking for the masks. Some people were talking about how rude were those who bought more than one package at a time, so nothing left for others.

This made me think that the kind of life I am experiencing is pretty organized and comfortable. In every country I lived in there were systems and laws and expectations from society to behave accordingly in order for everything to keep on going, more or less, the same way as it did yesterday.

In Japan, I feel like this is especially highly valued.

But sometimes, an unknown obstacle slips into the comfortably functioning system, threatening to pull it all into an unknown place of fear and chaos.

I felt it during the couple of earthquake drills I’ve been to (though they were very organized), before the big typhoon a few months ago (no water bottles or flashlights anywhere to be found), and today while listening to an elderly couple standing by the empty masks shelves and wondering aloud where are the masks.

The notion that life, as we know it, might end tomorrow, and we must be ready, is a feeling no one likes very much. Especially the unknown part about it.

I do not know much about the new virus to be honest. But I have some masks left that I started putting on while on the train, and I am washing my hands a bit more often than usual.

I am hoping everyone will be okay, and that winter and its microscopic friends will be over soon.

 

 

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Summer is almost here

And I love the summer.

Though it is going to be super hot, everyone here says so.

Five months ago, I got rid of 70% of my “stuff”, sent the rest by boat to my parents and left my apartment in Jerusalem feeling a bit unsure about a lot of things related to the past, the future, and the present.

I am still a bit unsure about things, but I am working on thinking less about the past, not worrying about the future, and most definitely enjoying the present.

Because I made it to Japan, but more importantly, I took off for another adventure.

The postmen here call me “Peregu” and it’s a refreshing identity. I look at the envelope they handed to me, it’s from the bank account I just opened or the phone company I just joined. Everything is in Japanese, it makes me slightly nervous. Then I look at my (hebrew) name written in Katakana; it’s funny and different. And I like it.

Tokyo University of Foreign Studies is where I am studying the Japanese Language until September. Then, I will move on to a totally different part of Tokyo. Everything will be new again: my university, where I will be living, where I will go to get groceries, the people I will meet and encounter.

There are some unknown obstacles ahead. Sometimes my head is full of questions of how things will be like. But I am learning to count on myself. It will be ok.

And more importantly, I am here now. On this part of Tokyo for the time being. And I go to my university every day. Sometimes, I almost forget that around it, there are some very nice places I should indulge in before life goes on.

TUFS is located at the depths of residential Western Tokyo: Neighborhoods, parks, locals who really like to grow cucumbers in their gardens. They are very surprised to see me walking around. I can relate.

It’s quiet. Peaceful. Foreign to me.

Crazy Tokyo itself, The City with no ends, is looming just a short train ride away. But I like being a bit far from it. Close enough to reach, far enough to withdraw.

Some photos from a walk I took after uni today.

 

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A Tokyo Memory


Back in 2014 when I was an exchange student in Japan, I made a trip from Kyoto to Tokyo in the middle of the semester with two of my international University friends, Ruby and Jess. 

We chose the night bus as our method of transportation. It takes between 6 to 7 hours to reach Tokyo, we left Kyoto at 12AM (exactly) and got to Ikebukuro central bus station by 7 AM. With the Shinkansen (bullet train), paying a lot more, you can make the same distance in 3 hours. 
When we reached Ikebukuro I was super tired and so excited. It was my first time in Tokyo, a city I had wanted to visit for most of my life. I felt familiar with the place somehow, and it seemed very natural to order my first Tokyo cup of coffee at the nearby Starbucks at 7:20 AM. 
However, when we arrived at the subway, I was lost: the map indicating the different lines seemed INSANE to me. How do we even? What?  Maybe it was the lack of sleep, but compared to the simple subway system in Kyoto, this was out of my league. A few months later, when I returned to Tokyo, I had a different perspective on this, but I still find Tokyo to be incredibly layered.  
We arrived at our boarding house in Asakusa where we were planning on ONLY spending our nights at. Asakusa is considered “old style” Tokyo, wooden houses and shrines, it was reconstructed that way even though the entire place was burnt to the ground in WW2. The boarding house was very small, falling apart in some places and full of women. Oh, and the shower was in the kitchen. The cost was indeed very low and part of our successful “saving money” plan. 

We dropped our bags and moved on to explore the city.
We returned around 11PM. 

The landlord was a Japanese elderly woman and the rest of the girls were all foreigners from Malaysia and Indonesia. Most of them were aspiring immigrants who lived in that boarding house for a very long time and were cleaning offices for a living. We found ourselves in a tight room full of bunkbeds, each was 3 beds, so you could only crawl into your bed with some difficulty, which is what I did. 

Some of the girls were removing their headscarves, others were already combing their hair. They were all amazed by our presence. 

None of them spoke English. Japanese was our language of communication. I presented myself as an American named Effi (first time this happened), the girl in the bed above me got very excited. “We had people from Spain coming here, from the Netherlands, but never the US!”. “How come your hair is like this? So pretty” said another.
Before sunrise, some of the girls woke up to pray, then left for work. I laid in my small space listening to the sounds of their breathing, the ruffling of their clothes. Tokyo was waking up around us as well. Through the thin wooden walls of the room, I could hear voices in Japanese: A family was preparing for the new day, a TV was turned on somewhere, a child was laughing at something. All so close to our room, a room full of young women who don’t belong, yet, wish for a better life. 

I was observing a side of Tokyo I wasn’t planning to see.
The next days, I visited Shibuya, Roppongi and the fanciest shopping centers I’ve ever been to in my life in Shinjuku. I returned to the boarding house each night (I even showered in the kitchen). Once, I let one of the girls to comb my hair, she told me I should always comb it with a wooden comb.  

Tokyo exceeded my expectations. It is a lively, prosperous city, full of everything excellent- Food, Art and beautiful things. 

But the boarding house is on my mind today and will stay there for a long time.