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Japan Diary

Corona Oddities from Japan

By March 6, 2020May 21st, 2020One Comment
Corona Oddities from Japan

I don’t want to downplay the severity of what is going on worldwide. It is serious. How serious? Nobody knows. I wrote a piece titled “Fear” a few days back about more or less keeping it in perspective, or as those Zen Masters like to say, “Keeping it in the now.”

Living in the moment there is no fear, no problems, nothing to worry about. I know for most of you this is a hard concept to grasp. Living in the past or the future is easier to control in your mind. This is what they call delusion and manifests in many different forms.

What I want to talk about today is a few oddities I have noticed in Tokyo in relation to corona, fear and delusion.

Imagine …

… you are standing on a packed commuter train in Tokyo unable to move. The corona virus is a few weeks into its long journey towards worldwide infection. Convinced mask wearing offers protection and a modicum of relief, everyone on the train is wearing one. The exception? One haggard looking elderly salary man who clearly should have retired over a decade ago. This non-mask wearing octogenarian surrounded by a sea of mask-wearing paranoid younger salary men suddenly coughs without covering his mouth, spewing forth droplets of saliva easily seen by the naked eye.

The already deafening silence on this morning train reaches a depth of silence that would frighten any meditation practitioner. With this simple act of coughing, everyone within eye-shot in their minds has pronounced him guilty of murder. Nominating himself executioner, a young brash up and coming salary man begins to yell at the perp for coughing in a crowded train, “What the hell do you think you are doing old man? You’re going to kill us all!” Lavishing in the attention the executioner continues his delusional rant, “I think it’s best you get off the train at the next stop or else we will have to take matters into our own hands.” Stunned and speechless by the lack of respect, the old man gets up from his seat and with head held low shuffles off the train at the next stop.

Imagine …

… you are at an Italian style coffee shop in a trendy part of central Tokyo minding your own business writing your next blog post. Sitting at a large dark mahogany table that could easily seat twelve disciples + 1, it is empty thanks to the corona virus scare, save for one patron. This university age Japanese mask wearing male stands in front of a glass counter and home to a plethora of deserts to savor along with a cappuccino.

Having already ordered your banana bread and cappuccino you are sitting down at the hulk of a table getting ready to write. You look up to see the university student with tray in hand sitting down directly in front of you. Annoyed by the fact that of all the chairs to choose from this guy sits within corona giving proximity. You remind yourself that Japanese personal space and yours are not the same. Returning for a moment to your writing you look up for a second and notice the mask on your new friend is hanging from his chin. The stark whiteness of the mask accentuates the red pock marks that overwhelm his face. Thinking he is sick with the big “C” you consider moving further away. At closer inspection you realize it’s puberty related.

You glance at his tray and realize why he has so many of those pesky pimples on his face. He has ordered one of every desert displayed in the glass case, not one two or three, rather six, along with a small cup of coffee to wash it all down with. With mask removed he begins the devouring session with the same banana bread you have ordered. Followed by a slice of cheesecake, then shoe cream (think cream-filled-doughnut). With your stomach getting queasy just watching him, you go back to your writing to push this gluttonous juvenile out of your mind. Then it occurs to you, he is eating out of fear. Fear of the big “C”.

Imagine …

… you are in Tokyo church (yes they have them here too) praying for the sick and the dying, the priest mentions corona in relation to the prayer, a collective sigh moves through the room and heads drop ever lower, as if this is more important than the myriad of other issues that affect the world. The priest says, “Reach out and grasp each other’s hands. Let’s bond and give strength to the poor and hungry, the sick and dying of the world.” Your first thought, “What the hell I am not holding hands with anyone. I’d rather not be one of those sick and dying we are praying for now!

You notice that of the one hundred or so parishioners attending mass that day, nearly everyone is having similar thoughts. One third chose to live on the edge and are actually holding hands, the other third simply opt for survival and do not hold hands. With the final third coming up with a clever alternative, tucking their hands underneath the armpits and touching elbows. You stifle a chuckle at the sight and ingenuity of this life-saving alternative.

The unified reluctance to hold hands is perceived by the priest. He speaks in a calm god-like tone, “God is watching your every move. He knows what you do, what you think.” This Christian koan goes over the head of everyone. Each parishioner holds their ground continuing to do what they are doing.

You don’t care about that at all, you have chosen to cram both your hands into the front of your pants.

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