States of Emergency: Pandemics, Olympics, and Dreams Deferred

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Tokyo Tower View
Photo by Louie Martinez on Unsplash

Last night the Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, delivered an address to the nation. In it, he declared a State of Emergency in some prefectures of Japan, including the capital city, Tokyo. This was all as expected, and perhaps even hoped for. Many of my Japanese friends wanted a state of emergency declared a while ago. As the numbers of infected steadily climbed higher, and as Tokyo became the epicenter for the infection in Japan as a whole, we in the city all knew that it was only a matter of time, and that we were essentially sleepwalking towards some form of lockdown situation. 

“Only a matter of time” is an excruciatingly poignant phrase for this pandemic. It is very much, and in every sense, all about time. We are forcing ourselves to self quarantine and our economies to grind to a halt in an attempt to “buy” ourselves more time to either find a vaccine or create immunity, before hospitals become overwhelmed. And because of this, we have endless amounts of time to ourselves. Time that we all wanted and craved three weeks ago, maybe not so much now. Time, just like Life, has a way of mocking our perceptions of it.

The State of Emergency will last until May 6th, almost a month from now. Our own personal states of emergency may last longer than that. In Tokyo, the “lockdown” is not as severe as in other cities across the world that are suffering–New York, Rome, Paris, Moscow. Tokyoites can still shop for groceries, can still walk around outside, can still use public transportation even. 

Still, I find myself reeling a bit from the rapidity with which everything has changed so quickly. It was only two weeks ago that the governor of Tokyo made her announcement that we should be doing more to stop the spread and practice social distancing. It was only two and a half weeks ago, a Saturday afternoon, that everyone was out viewing the cherry blossoms bloom. 

Tt was a weird time–the rest of the world sinking, Japan and Tokyo teetering on the edge, it seemed. Everyone was afraid that the virus would hit, but also maybe a little too naively convinced that it wouldn’t. I went out to dinner at an Italian restaurant that evening, and had a shivering thought that maybe this would be the last time in a while that I would be able to go out like this. Only a matter of time.

That feels like years ago. Time is warped and has lost a lot of its meaning as a way of structuring our lives. Days feel like weeks and weeks feel like years, and months…well, what even is a month anymore, anyway? No one can plan a month ahead anymore, not really. School openings and the lifting of lockdown restrictions keep getting pushed farther and farther out–so that “May” has lost all meaning. “June” is incomprehensible. I can only see the beam of sunlight slowly move across the room. Everything else is like a dream.

I think now is the time to talk about the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. That too has been postponed–very very far into the distant future that is 2021. It’s strange.  Everything–advertisements, plans, news, policies, development plans, budgets, funding, taxes–everything was completely concentrated on the Olympics for so long. And then all of a sudden it wasn’t (that postponement announcement occurred only fifteen days ago, by the way). 

There was a lot of excitement about the Olympics, but also a lot of grumbling. Sure Tokyo would get lots of tourists and press coverage, but wouldn’t it get so crowded and noisy? Wouldn’t it be way too hot (there was already a big to-do about the marathon event being moved to Hokkaido)? Maybe Japan would be able to debut its brand new self on the world stage, but would it actually help Japan and Tokyo, or just put money in some people’s pockets? 

The Covid-19 pandemic has pulled the Tokyo Olympics out of the messiness of reality and transformed it into a dream again. And in the process, it has imbued it with a new significance, as only dreams can do. The Olympics will take place in an entirely different world, one that will surely be scarred yet longing to return to celebrate together in the sunlight. It will be a symbol for the world coming back together after so much time apart; a cathartic symbol of unity after so much painful separation. And if it is done right, the 2021 Olympics has the power to touch us all, and to harken back to those old simple dreams of the power of sport and camaraderie. 

Dreams are important, even during these times. They allow us to imagine, to revel, to reflect and to reveal. A lot of our dreams have had to be put on the backburner. Nazobako had a lot of them before the virus hit–plans to grow our company and create more exciting rooms, events and team building activities. Plans to give more people joy. Those dreams will have to be deferred a little–into the great post-pandemic beyond. But we are still dreaming, and thankfully still able to work on those dreams.

We all have more time to dream. Perhaps more importantly, we have more time to remember them, maybe even write them down. We can dream of what we will want to eat, and where will we want to go, what we will want to do and who we will want to become. We can even dream of the new world we will want to create when this is all said and done. Because we will get through this, we will all be together again, even if it is unimaginable right now. It is only a matter time.

Stay safe, stay home, stay strong, and stay connected.

With love,

Lee and the staff of Nazobako/Invite Japan

Here is a good summary of the details of the State of Emergency announced by the prime minister and governor of Tokyo, and how it affects those living here, including foreign residents and tourists. 

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