Morning Voices from Tokyo

(From April 7th to May 25th, 2020 Tokyo was under a state of emergency due to the COVID-19 crisis in the city and surrounding area. Tokyo prefecture was one of the last to have the state of emergency finally lifted.)

5 a.m. I wake as usual to the work trucks rumbling past my house in the pre-dawn Tokyo darkness. Despite the state of emergency, work goes on…

But not in my home. Not yet.

The next time I wake, it's to the sun, and the voices of pre-schoolers trouping off to the neighbourhood daycare center, which remains open.

Some, I know, sit upright on the backs of their parents' e-bikes, looking for all the world like junior executives in business class, planning the day ahead.

Others call to their friends, or greet the daycare workers with enthusiasm, wanting to love as much as be loved.

One is already exploring for any changes: cracks and stains on the pavement and in the park: a new weed through a crack in the pavement; a squashed bug on the road; a garden flower finally in bloom. Their world is a constant source of mystery and wonder.

The rest fill the early morning street with their voices, and their parents towards where their favourite toys await, and a day will be filled with others to play with.

A couple hang back, alone or dragging on their parent's hand, as if they dread what is to come but are helpless to stop it.

In other words, just like my friends and I when we were pre-schoolers literally half a century ago (yeesh!) and half a world away.

Like us, they will grow up to be doctors and lawyers and homemakers and store clerks and teachers and daycare workers, just as we did, with a few new occupations in the new and unimaginable future  (imagine asking "What is an 'app developer?'" half a century ago).

What will they remember of this time? Will all this be nothing more than a moment in history they learn about in school, the way we learn about the Spanish Flu. Or the World Wars.

Or will they inherit yet another set of problems from us global warming? Income inequality? Mass extinctions? The upsurge in nationalism?

Sorry 'bout all that…


As I make my morning coffee, I reflect on the differences in their voices, their various futures, and I wonder what kind of day today will turn out to be in this new pandemic age?

What will the news say? Cases, clusters, and outbreaks. Contact tracing and morbidity rates.
Another day of people helping people, first responders and essential workers, medical specialists, risking their health so the rest of us can live a semblance of normal life?

Will there be a medical breakthrough? A root cause or originary source identified? Better yet, a concoction of roots and berries, perhaps some alchemical elixir, the hard work or flash of insight of brilliant minds, which will cure the sick and protect the vulnerable?

A day of just getting on with things as best we can. Salarymen and women - the lucky ones - working from home. Students  -  again, the lucky ones - logged onto online classes. A day of social distancing on the morning jog in the park, in the supermarkets, riding the train into work. Wondering when it's safe to go to the gym again.

Or one of those darker days, when the invisible virus could be on any surface. In the air. In us already and we don't even know it. tangled in hair; spreading from jacket to shirt to closet to pyjamas, bath towels and bedsheets. Tables and chairs and laptop keyboards and TV remotes. And all the news broadcasts and online chatter of second waves and new normals.

But even if today is one of those darker days, tomorrow is a fresh start, and so is the day after that. And after that.

Our generation survived childhood, mistakes and disasters and all.

Hopefully so will this generation. To leave a legacy of achievements - and the inevitable, unintended problems  -  for the next generation.

At least, that's how it's always worked til now…

Aaron Paulson is a long-term expat. He blogs at Medium