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Empty Seats

Updated: Jun 16, 2020

I live in Japan, where there is a heavy reliance on public transportation. The pandemic has caused a massive change in my lifestyle. On occasions when I have to go out, I find that the buses and trains are mostly empty, and even if there are a few passengers, most people decide to stand up instead of sitting down. Especially in Shibuya, a popular shopping district, you can only see one or two people crossing the crosswalks, compared to the stampede of people you usually see.

If you’ve ever been to Japan, you know that some people regularly use masks regardless of whether they are sick or not. Because of this culture, many of my friends already had a small stock of masks at home, and they were prepared when there was a shortage. My mom tried ordering masks on Rakuten, and even went online right when the new stock was added, but the number of online buyers was so large that she was queued for the next stock. From buying masks alone, I can see the impact of the coronavirus from a socio-economic standpoint. A lot of cleaning and sanitization goods are selling at an inflated price on online stores, so these goods may not be accessible to those with less money. I am very fortunate and privileged to be at a point where my parents can afford such necessities.

Even though I live in Japan, as an international student, I barely speak Japanese. However, this pandemic has given me an opportunity to learn the language as I interact with local shops near my apartment, rather than traveling to the more English-friendly areas for tourists. There’s a small grocery shop near my house, so I sometimes chat with the lady who works there, and it has really made me more in sync with my local community.

I am thankful that the response within the Japanese community is much better than the United States. I see protests about people fighting for their “freedom”, wearing masks that are cut open to protest the lockdown. I think that these kinds of actions are very ignorant and irresponsible towards the rest of the community, as they directly endanger the lives of others.

The numbers in Japan are declining; hopefully, this pattern will continue worldwide.


Written by: Naomi Katayama

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