Yep, nothing like a pandemic to test one’s commitment to a cause. And until a couple months ago, I was largely settled on the idea of living in Japan forever. I appreciate all aspects of this country, from the mountains to the oceans, and all the convenience stores in between. Japan’s a wondrous neon land of late-night karaoke, bullet trains, and spotless neighborhoods, maintained by an upstanding citizenry steadfastly dumping broken stereos and microwaves into the forest. Gotta admire the conscientiousness. I like everything about Japan except the people.
And of course, there were the ladies. Chatting up random birds in bars, restaurants, the Unemployment Bureau. “Come here often for government assistance? Me too. We’ve so much in common. Let’s hang out.” They say working on a hobby keeps your brain healthy, and you know Ken Seeroi ain’t trying to get no Alzheimer’s.
How COVID-19 has Affected Japan
But now, that’s all gone, wiped out by the coronavirus. The standing bar where I’d get three glasses of shochu and a grilled sardine for 10 bucks, closed. The sitting bar across the alley where I’d stumble afterward for four frosty lagers and a cheese-filled fish sausage for eleven dollars, shuttered. I’m reduced to walking through parks with a tallboy of malt liquor, conversating with girls from six feet away through mutual face masks. “So, how ‘bout this social distancing, huh? I like your clean hands. Off to sanitize? Okay. Y’know, I have Netflix… just sayin’!” Ah, she’ll be back.
Japan’s officially no fun anymore. If I were to chart my experience with the nation, it’d be a long downward arc from Funnest Country Ever to Why Am I Here? I’ve lived through a massive earthquake, tsunami, nuclear meltdown, heartbreak, betrayal, unemployment, arrest, hospitalization, suicide, another massive earthquake, more unemployment, more death, more heartbreak, racism, boxes of discarded puppies and kittens in the trash and through it all been like, Great, what else ya’ got? Bring it. Global pandemic? Okay . . . Well, that is pretty good. Gotta admit, did not see that coming.
Keeping it up in Japan
Over the years, I remained mostly upbeat because, you know, eh, that’s life. Tough times don’t last, but tough people don’t either. And maybe not a tsunami, but it rains everywhere. Well, except Southern California. Really shoulda stayed there. Eh, hindsight. But Japan was okay, because it offered enough good times to balance out the bullshit. Sakura festivals, firework festivals, dance festivals, fried noodles and stuff on sticks. Laying on blue sheets staring at the stars under paper lanterns, drinking cold beer on hot summer nights. Drinking hot sake on cold winter nights, gazing at the moon. The millions of restaurants, food carts, and corner stalls, whirling with plates of steaming deliciousness and rivers of booze, cheap and brimming with drunk workers laughing and howling before sprinting for the last, packed train.
My Virtual Existence
So lately, I’ve been having these Zoom calls with my old buddies from high school in the U.S. And to a man, everyone lives in a massive house, has a family, and a successful career. And I’m all like, Check out my 25-square-meter apartment. I can cook, take a nap, and have a whiz, all in the same room. You can’t say that’s not convenient.
And nobody did, probably because they’re all Americans and don’t know what a meter is. But my buddy Lon was like, “Ken, why you live in such a small place?”
Which admittedly was an excellent question. “Yeah, so I mortgaged my future for the fleeting pleasure of several mugs of malt liquor and trying to convince 45 year-old broads to accompany me to love hotels . . . aaand now I live in poverty,” seemed a bit long of an answer.
“Well, I teach English,” I replied, which means the same thing.
Life on Ice
But enough about me. Let’s talk about polar explorer Henry Worsley, and me. For his part, Worsley hauled a sled laden with supplies in solitude, on foot, over 900 miles across Antarctica, enduring months of fatigue, frostbite, and hunger, before finally collapsing and radioing for help on a satellite phone. There’s only two ways stories of adventure end. Either you survive and spend the rest of your days tending vegetables in the sun, slowly growing old, sipping wine and playing frisbee with your dog, or you die alone on the ice. Worsley made the flight out, but passed away before reaching his home in Great Britain and seeing his family again. Okay, technically that’s three ways, but you get the idea.
Living to Tell the Story
So it’s either, Ken Seeroi? Yeah, he went to Japan, fuckin’ died, and we never saw the dude again—or, You mean the sweet old guy with tall tales about the Far East and an incessant slide show of fake temples and Chinese women dressed as Geisha? There’s something to be said for being able to bore your neighbors and relations to tears. That’s not nothing.
At this point, 54,000 Americans have already died, with some friends-of-my-friends among them. If I can help it, I don’t want the last time I see my mother, brother, or good buddies to be on an iPhone. Nothing like a crisis to snap things into focus. On the other hand, it’s hard to make the case that the right move now is boarding a plane for a country with almost a million infected people, the majority of whom believe in angels and carry guns. Angels and guns? Seems kind of superfluous. Just an observation.
Coronavirus and the end of the World
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not done with Japan; simply trying to be realistic. Hey, first time for everything. The party’s over, maybe for a long time, and I’m stuck in a closet-sized apartment, social distancing and self-isolating. At least I’ve had a decade of practice in that. Or maybe this crisis in Japan is merely an excuse for bailing out. If so, gotta admit it’s a fairly good one. But Worsley never gave up. He was a member of the elite British SAS, whose motto is “Who dares wins.” I really feel I could help them with that sentence construction. Still, I’ll grant you that, as a saying, it’s pretty inspiring. Although practically speaking, nnyeaah, I kinda think He who stays on the couch wins. But like Worsley, I’ll push on a little further, just to see what’s over the next icy ridge. No doubt it’ll end well.
In Japan for the Long Haul
I still like Japan for the small things, like going to the ATM at midnight without getting jacked or waking up mosquito-bitten and hungover under the playpark slide without being surrounded by a SWAT team. I dig the toasty toilet seats and frosty cans of vending machine coffee. But the seesaw has definitely tilted a bit from pros to cons. If all life entails is spending days drinking beer in my boxers and watching Tiger King reruns, hell, I can do that anywhere. Why Japan? But then again, eh, why not? Possibly not the best reason for living like I do, but it’s all I got. Nietzsche famously said, “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.” Well, that just makes me wonder why I placed the fridge so far from my bed, and how I can move it closer. Great, and now I have a reason to live. Good morning, Japan.