Japan: Life Before Lockdown

During the last week of February 2020, I had the opportunity to visit Japan for nine days, right before the country closed to foreign visitors for almost two years. Information regarding Covid-19 was sparse at this time, and not much was known about its transmission or lethal status. The notorious Diamond Princess cruise ship was docked in Tokyo Bay, and fears abounded over whether or not the country was already in the midst of unknown community transmission.

Japan is a country long-associated with mask wearing, though my initial observations at the start of the trip were surprising. While many wore masks while out in public, many others did not. As each day progressed, more and more individuals began protecting themselves, and the price of masks skyrocketed in local stores.

My flight home was shared with many travelers who were already being rerouted trying to return home from other destinations in Asia. Upon arrival, the Customs agent who greeted me joked about the mask I chose to wore, referring to the pandemic as “no big deal.” Within two weeks of returning home, the Pacific Northwest received its first documented case of community transmission, and the lockdown began.