More than Cabin Fever: A Day in Tokyo during the Lockdown

Lockdown. I am sure the word makes you tremble. How long has it been now? How many days have you passed in the nooks and crannies of your little house; what have you learnt about the wallpaper and the differing glows of the lamps in your rooms? Who’d have thought you’d finally get round to cleaning out that closet?

What a curious experience, this invisible pandemic that has hit pause on cities and towns around the world. Perhaps for most, if not all, it is a first, to be left to the microscopic machinations of a cough, or opening of a door as we carefully eyeball a meter or two between us and the next wide-eyed, masked stranger. The ordinary has been irreversibly shaded in doubt and we can do nothing but traverse our little lives with a headache inducing awareness of the things we touch.
Most have retreated to their family homes, to wait it out and bear the insanity of those they love the most. But there are some of us who quietly watched the ship home leave crammed harbours with anxious and divided thoughts (metaphorically speaking, who takes a ship these days?), some of us that for some other reason have decided to sit it out across an ocean from home and watch quietly as the lockdown days unfold.

Day 1 – Tentative Excitement

Your alarm sounds and for a moment your automatic pilot kicks your body into gear as you wake, down a glass of water and check your work schedule completely dazed and still asleep. The schedule is blank. And, with a surging rush of excitement, you remember you’re closed for the next few weeks. You throw the curtains open – not a cloud to be seen. You defer the temporary concerns of money knowing that your company is closed with something like a sigh of relief as you finally have some time to focus on all your projects and passions.

You remember reading that the lockdown in Tokyo isn’t exactly a lockdown and that you’d still be free to take walks or a weekly train trip to the parts of the city you’ve wanted to visit on quiet days. You know what the moment needs – some music. The lo-fi beats start and you make a list of all the things you’re going to do with what you think is much needed time to yourself. First, a run next to the river. Then, some studying, Japanese or programming? Hell, why not both. You’ll cook a mean breakfast and in little over a month, you’ll be rested and inspired again, feelings you haven’t felt for quite some time.

Day 8 – Pasta, Again?

It’s 3pm. You’ve got your comfy socks on and you are dancing in your room in your underwear. You almost slip on the wooden floor and awkwardly take a moment to compose yourself, then realizing no one is about, you immediately jump back into your ridiculous moves and dramatic mimicking of the artist (your flatmates undoubtedly relieved that you’re not actually singing; you’ll save that for the shower – better acoustics). Next, you try your luck at some yoga, scrolling through the unnecessarily high number of yoga videos online. 30 mins later (and after the sad realization you can’t touch your toes without bending your knees slightly) you feel enlightened.

You open a notebook to write something profound and pace about your room stoically until your silly little brain conjures up something you’d find on a fridge magnet. That’ll do, you think to yourself proudly as you shuffle to the kitchen to make your 100th bowl of pasta.  Ah! Almost forgot your pants – what’s it, day three or four in these?

Day 11 – Video Calls with Old Friends

Okay, so it’s day six in the same pair of trousers, but only you and the trousers know, so it’s totally fine, right? You’ve half completed some of the things on your list of productivity, but you’ve done a thousand other things to boot, all sprinkled generously between being a useless tub of flesh on the couch with the newest game on your handheld console (you still have those rare species of fish to reel in and display). You catch yourself talking to yourself, quoting surprisingly long passages from the film you keep watching over and over as background noise to your slow drop into insanity, asking the walls if they are not entertained.

But soon the dopamine begins to fade and your room starts to feel a little tinier. You scroll through the photo library on your phone and try to relive those gorgeous moments, replaying all your shenanigans in your head and sending those photographs to those you shared the moment with to laugh together. A text turns into a 53-minute video call where you both end up chatting in strange positions; upside down on your bed, lying on the floor with your legs up against the wall. Worlds apart, those memories still tie you together and though you haven’t spoken in a couple months, some friendships never die. When the call ends, a quiet smile lights up your face. You miss them and they miss you.

Day 22 – Sending Help

“What…? I am sorry I can’t hear you; you’re breaking up. What do you mean the lockdown has been extended? Is everyone okay? How’s gran? Wait you cut out again… Hello?”
Back home, things are worse than in Tokyo. Your family has been in lockdown two weeks longer than you and there are no signs of reprieve. Every conversation is charged with frustration and sadness, as you amble about familiar topics looking for something to make your little sister or brother laugh. You count the slightest giggle as a victory and a listless smile sneaks across your face. Mum might lose her job. And your father’s company is in the red, one incomplete payment away from being written off, helpless to those microscopic machinations that have corroded everyone’s wallet and sanity.

But the good news is you’ve finally changed your pyjama trousers. It’s the little things like that – cleaning your room, making your bed, trying a new recipe, doing an extra ten push-ups – that softens the near overwhelming helplessness. Should you have gone home? Everything outside of your room transforms into this vague, amorphous glob of fear and uncertainty and you feel yourself a vacant, confused creature far from home. If only there was something you could do to help your family…
You’ve got it. You begin the setup. Selfie mode, good angle, lighting will do. Okay, it’s all about song choice. You’re ready. All these days at practice, it’s a flawless idea.

Day 23 – The Dancing Video

You wake up to a flurry of notifications and excitedly, though still half-asleep, scroll through them.
“Darling we absolutely loved your dancing video.”
“You’re such an idiot, goofball!”
“How are you not slipping on that wooden floor?”
“Your dancing is as bad as your fathers.”
It’s not much, but they smiled.

Maybe that’s what all of this is showing us: It’s not much, but we smiled. And who knows, maybe after this thing ends, you’ll be able to touch your toes without slightly bending your knees.

Brendan Marx Author

Page-turning and daydreaming, Brendan is a thoughtful character from the Southern points of Africa who has watched the sun set in numerous places. Over the last two years, he has lived abroad in Dublin, Ireland and now Tokyo, Japan where he is building a creative platform to express those obscure little feelings we don’t have words for and is looking to find those things and moments that move us. With a fondness for sadness, he is currently exploring visual and written mediums with the ThreeCities creative project and is dying to express the inexpressible.

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