The New Normal: A coronavirus manifesto


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Dear customers and casual readers, fans and future players,

This is a very difficult time for the world, and it is a difficult time to write. Our lives have been turned upside down due to the novel Coronavirus. Certainly at Invite Japan and Nazobako Tokyo we are facing an unprecedented situation. In order to best practice social distancing and to conform to the guidelines set by health officials, the Tokyo Metropolitan government, and the Japanese national government, we have shut down our facility from last Saturday, March 28th. Optimistically, would love to reopen on April 12th. Given the nature of this virus and how it has affected other countries though, we are preparing to be closed for a longer period of time. How much longer that will be is a very huge, lingering unknown at this point. So all of our staff is now working from home (and grateful that we have projects that we can work on).

There is no way around the feeling of sadness that pervades this situation. What the pandemic upends is both the past and the future at once–we grieve for the world that we knew and are anxious for what is to come. Anxious not only for our own and our loved ones’ physical safety, but also for our economic safety, our mental well-being. How long can we stay inside, we ask ourselves, with not a slight touch of apprehension at the abyss that lies before us: we may have to stay inside for a very, very long time. What will that do to us? Who will we become? We know what we have to do, and yet we have no model to fall back on, no real reference point to reflect on. Which makes the act of self-sacrifice that much harder.

I sit here writing you on the first official working day during our self-isolation period. That sounds like a line out of a science fiction movie, but here we are, living it. Today we had a short meeting over Zoom to go over how this would work, to do some house cleaning, and to talk about our goals over this period. And then we were left to ourselves and the silence of our own spaces. It’s hard to be separated from the coworkers who you spend almost every day with, who you interact with both professionally and intimately in that weird nexus that is “work relationships”. It’s hard also to be separated from the physical space of the work-place, that space that tells you when to be “on”, when to train your brain towards the work at hand. This is especially the case at Nazobako, where a large part of the job is dealing with customers, making sure that they are having a good time, and getting inspiration and feedback from them in real time. 

So what does an entertainment/service sector company do in the age of Coronavirus? How are we supposed to handle this unprecedented situation? How are we supposed to continue? 

A couple of days before we closed down the facility and went our separate social distancing ways, I had a conversation with our General Manager, Dennis. It was right after Governor of Tokyo Koike had made her speech about the dangers of Tokyoites’ sense of complacency in the face of pandemic crisis and the need for more stricter measures. It was this speech that sent everyone in the city scrambling, and its message was that the crisis was here. Dennis said that we would be needing to close down, at least for the weekend, probably for a while longer. We would need to make some sacrifices but we would have to learn to work from home.

There was a lot of uncertainty in what he said, as no doubt many of you can imagine, having spoken to your parents and families and partners and bosses. But he did say, at the end, that there is a need for us during these times, that we are a company whose primary goal is to bring happiness and joy into the world, and that in these dark times we can still spread some light. And when this virus does go away, people will need us more than ever. 

I think there is no better mission statement for us, and myself, at this point. All of us will remain hard at work planning, designing, and creating for the future world to be (albeit from our homes, and over Zoom). We have new escape rooms, new HSJ scavenger hunts, and new team-building events in the mix. And (as always), there are always more puzzles to create.  

As for myself, I will be here at my post at Monday through Friday writing to you. If ever there was a moment for good writing, I think now is the time. I will do my best to write openly and honestly about what’s going on here and in Tokyo, while discuss my thoughts about what this crisis and what this moment might mean in a broader context. We as a company have always stressed the importance of human interaction and social interaction, of dealing with mental health in productive ways, and of challenging our preconceived notions. Well, here is a crisis that has completely flipped the switch on all of these themes. So I want to try to make sense of things here, to try to assemble the pieces that have been scattered about, and to try to formulate a way for us all to (mentally at least) imagine the light at the end of the tunnel. 

There is a lot of suffering and change happening at once. There is no doubt that this is scary and overwhelming and sad. Those reactions and feelings are absolutely legitimate. I’m on the verge of tears every day. But there is also room for some hope, that maybe at the end of this whole ordeal we will be a little stronger, a little wiser, a little more unified and grateful. That’s the essence of what I hope to capture here on these pages.

With that in mind, I wish everyone the best wherever you are. We are all in this struggle together, even if sometimes it doesn’t always feel that way.

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

With love,

Lee and the staff of Invite Japan/Escape Game Nazobako

The Invite Japan/Nazobako team in happier times

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