Coronavirus News Asia

Not quite locked down in rural Japan

Out in the country west of Tokyo, self-isolated in a rented house looking out at flooded rice paddies and forested hills. Up at 6:30 to walk a couple klicks to the convenience store to buy a newspaper. Farmers already at work, tilling the paddies with a whirling rake behind a red tractor and putting rows of seedlings in the mud from crates loaded on a white tractor with a rotating planter on the back. A partially cloudy sky reflected in the water between the rows of green seedlings. 

A young boy jogs past me wearing a face mask. Probably in case he meets some careless old dude without a mask. Nightingales are whistling and other birds chirping from the trees. The frogs are quiet now, but they are very noisy at night with a hundred million voices.

There’s a fair amount of traffic on the main road, country people going to work early. The crane at the building site next to the hospital is already working, a construction worker in a blue, long-sleeved shirt standing on the frames below, wearing a mask.

Crossing the road at the traffic light to enter the convenience store parking lot, I see more than a dozen vehicles. I put on my mask before entering the store, which is more crowded than I would like.

Down the road at the home center, a recorded message repeats constantly: All customers must wear masks. If you don’t have a mask, come to the counter and get one. 

There, at the supermarket and at the convenience store, a plastic sheet hangs between paying customers and the person at the cash register. But everyone is still touching paper money and coins, and wiping their hands afterwards. This is a new argument for digital currency, better than those high-tech arguments.

The morning paper says there were only 39 new cases of COVID-19 in Tokyo Monday, the lowest number in nearly a month. There have been 100 confirmed fatalities in Tokyo to date. Governor Koike finds these numbers “astonishing.” And they are. Of astonishingly great concern for the Japanese – and astonishing low compared with Europe and America. 

I see hand soap, other cleaning fluids and toilet paper on the shelves. If you get to the store early, you can probably buy what you want. By evening, those products, masks and other things may be sold out. But maybe not. Panic buying has subsided.

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