Bite-Sized Japanter · Coronavirus · Culture

Bite-Sized Japanter #15: Pandemic Mascots

I’ve previously written about Japan’s love of mascots – and it’s no surprise that a slew of characters have emerged due to the pandemic, bringing advice and comfort to the masses.

First, meet Awawa – a soap bubble mascot who demonstrates proper hand-washing techniques. He’s often accompanied by an assistant who sings a happy ditty about the importance of hygiene.

Next, there’s Quaran the quarantine fairy mascot created by Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.

While originally just an airport mascot protecting Japan from illegal items crossing the border, Quaran’s duties have now been expanded.
“I will do my best to let everyone know what a quarantine office does,” says the winged fairy on its website, brandishing it’s shield and protective goggles. D’awww.

Next, is Amabie – based on the legendary amabie creature, a mermaid-like bird figure from a Japanese folk tale with long flowing hair.

“Should an epidemic come, draw me and show me to the people,” It apparently said, before disappearing, never to be seen again. Convenient.
Pictures of amabies have recently started popping up all over Japan – there’s one on every floor in my schools – which is quite charming.

And finally – and possibly my favourite – is the kawaii pink cat Koronon.

Always wearing her face mask – and often a face shield – Koronon (“no corona”) is here to protect Tokyo from the virus by promoting social distancing and handing out disposable masks in busy areas such as Shinjuku and Ikebukuro.

In a country where there is a mascot for everything from encouraging safe sex to enemas, this sort of thing was kind of inevitable.

~ Carla

Coronavirus · Life · Personal

Social Distancing and Living Alone in Japan

So ‘social distancing’ has become the buzzword of the past few weeks, as people – voluntarily and involuntarily – start barricading themselves into their houses for the foreseeable.

I’ve seen a lot of social media posts from couples and families back home in the UK seeing the silver living in a terrible and unprecedented situation by using it to spend quality time together – reading, watching films, cooking, playing board games.

This is of course lovely – but what if you live alone?
And what if you live alone on the other side of the world?

A happy life as an expat for me revolves around my social circle, as I’m an extroverted introvert (also known as an ‘omnivert’ but that sounds too much like ‘omnivore’ to me, which always reminds me of dinosaurs for some reason…).

While I crave social interaction, I find myself exhausted and overstimulated if I’m around people too long (especially in larger groups) and feel the need to hibernate and recharge. But in the same vein, if I’m isolated for too long I find myself irritable and depressed.

Being away from home just amplifies this – I can’t go and chat with my mam, meet Lauren for pints, have a night in with Claire or get a train to visit Sam in Glasgow whenever I like. Living abroad you really have to work hard to put yourself out there to make connections – potentially friendships.

So what happens when that’s taken away?
Again, eeep.

As of writing this post there is no lockdown in Japan, nor clear information regarding social distancing. (Except beyond that it was suggested by the local government for Tokyo residents to stay indoors this week, and for no non-essential travel to the capital due to the recent rise in cases.)

However as an asthmatic I am classed as ‘high-risk’ and so I made the decision to self isolate as much as possible, only leaving my apartment for essentials such as trips to the supermarket/conbini and short walks in quiet areas.

So here’s what I’ve been doing while social distancing:

♥ Keeping in contact with family and friends back home.
While I do text my mam every day (if I don’t she assumes I’m dead – Italian problemz) I’m making an extra effort to Skype. Seeing their faces keeps me going, and reminds me that they are keeping safe and well.

My best Shields girls.

♥ Blogging.
But you should know that by now! From curating photos to even brainstorming ideas, I’m loving keeping my little diary about my time here to one day look back on.

♥ Reading.
Back home in the UK I have a decent physical collection of books, but knowing I’d be moving into a tiny apartment I bought myself a Kindle. (My sister has a MA in English and refuses to even look at it.) I have a hefty reading list to get through – though I’ll probably end up re-reading Harry Potter for the billionth time.

“Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.”

J.K. Rowling*

♥ Watch something familiar and comforting. For me:
TV: The Office, Friends, RuPaul’s Drag Race, Spaced.
FILMS: Harry Potter, The Princess Diaries, Tangled, Pride.

♥ Watching something new!
Time to get through that Netflix list. (And resist the urge to watch season 6 of Drag Race AGAIN.)

Spa time.
A long bubble bath, face mask, painting my nails etc.

♥ Drinking lots of tea.
Because I’m British and tea runs in my veins. I actually have a nice little collection of teas built up over the last few months.

♥ Cooking.

I mentioned in this post I don’t really like cooking, and living in the city I prefer to eat out. But now I’m kind of forced into cooking, so am trying to flex my skillz. Back home, baking is a huge stress reliever for me (I don’t have an oven in my apartment and there’s no room for a mini one) – and although I still can’t say the same for cooking – I’m really trying!

After drama with delivery I now finally have a proper coffee table – and don’t have to use this stool from Nitori I still haven’t returned to my friend. Sorry, Haruna!

♥ Redecorating.
Well, I’m using the term a bit loosely here – there’s only so much I can do with my little rented Leopalace. But I’m doing what I can to make it feel more homely – especially as I’m going to be staying her at least another year.
I ordered a cute pink sofa from Amazon for only £80 and was able to put away my dining room table and chairs which has already made the space look a lot bigger. I have a new rug, which is much nicer than the rough carpet that came with the apartment, a new fuzzy pink blanket and I’ve been re-arranging my photos, prints, books and other knickknacks I’ve accumulated over the past seven months.

Because I’m so extra I actually have THREE journals – an everyday journal, a journal for streams of consciousness/creative writing etc, and a Hobonichi for more art-style journalling. For me, it helps to set time aside to write down my thoughts for the day so they aren’t going round and round my head at bedtime. Speaking of which…

Keeping to a routine.
I’m a night owl and could happily go to bed at 3am and sleep until noon. But frankly it’s not healthy to spend my days like this, so I still set an alarm and try to go to bed around midnight at the latest.

Playing video games.
I’ve been enjoying spending time once again in Skyrim (my all-time favourite game – I even have a Skyrim tattoo) for the first time in a long while. I’ve also been playing Breath of the Wild, Fire Emblem Three Houses and online multiplayers like Mario Kart and Splatoon on my Nintendo Switch. With most of the world in isolation you’re never short on people being available to play!

Speaking of which…

Four words:
Animal Crossing New Horizons. I don’t need to say anything more. It’s the game the world needs right now.

Treating myself.
I believe everyday is “Treat yo’ self” Day, but on a particularly dull, grey day – I opened the fancy chocolates my pal bought me for White Day and watched Space Jam.
When I do venture to the supermarket or conbini, I’m making an effort to try something new – difficult for me as a creature of habit!

Improving my Japanese.
Because it’s still embarrassingly bad. With all my Genki textbooks gathering a little dust on my shelves, the thing I’m actually making most progress with – for now – is the Duolingo app.
I’m an interactive learner and struggle with textbooks alone. I’d love to take some classes (when everything has calmed down) but my schedule simply doesn’t allow it. I’ll eventually go back to my textbooks when I’ve progressed a little more with Duolingo.


Practicing mindfulness.
I recently converted from Apple Music to Spotify, and you can get Headspace a reduced rate if you sign up to a paid account (and even free for the first three months!). So I’ve been trying to make time to meditate every few days.

Open the windows/spend time on my balcony.
I have a tiny balcony in my tiny apartment, and really it’s only meant to hang your clothes out. But as the weather warms up, I have no problems with bringing a chair outside and reading, playing my Switch or meditating outside. Get that vitamin D, guys.

Stretching/working out.
I fucking hate exercising, I fucking hate it. But I don’t mind yoga and pilates. It’s on my list to do more, I promise.


Practicing my ukulele.
A few years ago after a night out I went on Amazon and drunkenly bought a ukulele. Last month, I did the same thing again – I even managed to buy the same make and colour. Well done, drunk Carla! While instruments are technically banned in my building, if I do it on the down low people don’t have to know. It’s not like I’m being a dickhead with a drum kit.

And finally…

No! Is that the only word you know? No???

Giselle, Enchanted.

♥ Crying.
Wah wah. I’m a really sensitive and emotional person, and know that it’s OK to just be sad sometimes. It’s OK to feel sad, lonely, homesick sometimes as an expat – there’s a lot of pressure on you to be happy, excited and doing amazing things every single day. But in these scary times, being honest with yourself and how you are feeling is of the utmost importance.

Last Sunday I was feeling a bit wobbly all day so tried watching Enchanted to cheer myself up – joyful, musical numbers, helpful pigeons, a Disney princess in New York, Timothy Spall!

But for whatever reason during So Close I just sat and wept like a baby – huge racking sobs – for the full duration of the song. No idea why, I just did.

Anyways, whatever you are doing I hope you are keeping healthy and as happy as can be. Remember, during these stressful times there is NO pressure on you to be productive. If you want to get up, work, enjoy your hobbies then that’s great. But it’s also totally valid to stay in your pyjamas all day and binge Drag Race.

I’m there with you, everyone.

~ Carla

*Although I’ve used one of her quotes here, I do NOT endorse or agree with JK Rowling’s harmful stance regarding trans women. The Potterverse has always been a safe and welcoming space for so many of us in times of both joy and hardship, and learning that your childhood hero harbours views like this is frankly devastating.

Apartment · Coronavirus · Personal

Life in Japan with Coronavirus (Covid-19)

A positive to everything that’s going on – my apartment is looking lovely!

I’m sorry for the lack of posts – for the past two weeks I have been working from home.

The students left school on the 6th March at the request of Prime Minster Abe to close all schools in Japan, although most teachers have still had to come in everyday.

However because I have an hour’s commute on public transport (an hour there, and an hour back), plus I have all the materials I’ll need at my apartment, I’ve been allowed to work remotely from home – mostly planning lessons and activities.

And while I have not been “self-isolating” per se, unless necessary I have been staying inside as much as I can.
This is mostly for two reasons – as an asthmatic, if I contract the virus I am at higher risk of becoming more seriously ill, and secondly I risk passing it on to other vulnerable groups, such as those also with pre-existing conditions and the elderly.

Cabin fever is a real thing, and in the middle of this week I felt at risk of going a bit Jack Torrence. So I’ve been trying to keep myself busy, and enjoying a slower pace of life in Japan.

The weather has been slowly warming up this week and has averaged around 12-17°C.

Although we had terrible storms over the weekend, most days I can have my balcony door wide open to let the fresh air right through my apartment, and so I don’t feel so claustrophobic.

I’ve been enjoying making nice meals like this french toast and sitting by my balcony to eat while watching Let’s Plays. (Shirley Curry’s Skyrim videos always help when I’m feeling especially anxious.)

I’ve also been cleaning my apartment and rearranging to make it as homely and comfortable as I possibly can with such a small space.
I bought an adorable pink sofa for only £80, and it has already made my living area look a lot bigger as I no longer have my dining table and chairs.

People have been asking for an apartment tour, and I promise it’s coming soon.
It’s still not looking 100% how I’d like it to, and as a perfectionist Taurus I’d prefer it to be just right before I post photos – and potentially a video!

“How do girls all know how to pose like that?” ~ Felipe.

While I’m not socialising as much as I usually do – which is difficult for me as an extroverted introvert – when my pal Felipe invited me to a birthday party I leapt at the chance and had such a good night at Las Chillonas in Hamamatsu city.
(Happy belated birthday, Farrah!!)

I also managed to make some new connections on the night, I really need some new girlfriends here – especially with my bestie Faith moving away in two weeks.
Many of them were planning on going abroad for Spring break (I was going to go to Seoul), however with travel restrictions in place, everyone will be staying in Japan.

So hopefully we can organise some cute activities to do together, even if it’s just hanging and playing Animal Crossing New Horizons. (7 days away, omg omg!)

I’ve also booked myself for a SOLO YOLO to Kyoto, since tourism is apparently down 50% and I want to see it when it’s not unbearably crowded for once.

While I haven’t felt like writing here much, I’ve been enjoying other creative writing outlets – such as journalling, letter writing and working on a fantasy fiction project that has been rattling around my brain for over a year now.
(It will probably never see the light of day. I enjoy writing – especially characterisation – but I don’t think I’m particularly talented!)

I was also surprised to receive the above from my head cheerleader, Sam.
There really is no better feeling in the world – on a particularly low day – than a letter arriving with your best friend’s handwriting on the envelope.

I’ve also been stocking up on essentials from the supermarket.

I’m certainly not going crazy and buying up the entire supply of beans and pasta (I HATE beans, for one thing – the slimy bastards!) but it hasn’t hurt to grab an extra bag of rice, tins of tuna, dried noodles, bread (it freezes well!), frozen vegetables, soy milk etc. as part of my usual shop.

(People in Japan don’t tend to do a weekly “big shop” as we call it in the UK – living spaces are very small here, so people tend to buy little and often, myself included.)

As you’re all probably well aware by now, people are panic-buying toilet roll.
There seems to be a lot of confusion in the UK especially why this is a thing – from what I can gather on social media, many people think it has to do with diarrhea.

However it all actually stems from a fake tweet here in Japan that stocks were running low because the paper is made in China, and would no longer be exported to Japan. This wasn’t true at all, however people started panic-buying until stock actually did run low.

This seems to have settled down a little now, the rule of one-per-family seems to have taken effect and yesterday at my local drugstore the shelves were full.

Anyways, from next week I’m back at my schools.

We have no classes, however the students will be back to practice for their graduation ceremonies which they had already been rehearsing for weeks. As far as I can tell, they’re scheduled to go ahead as planned.

I’m already getting my tissues at the ready – I cry very easily anyway, but a few of my favourite teachers are leaving/retiring so I can already see myself bawling my eyes out.

To finish, I’ll leave you with videos from two of my favourite J-vloggers Sharla and Chris Broad, about their experiences living and working in Japan during this time.

Stay safe, everyone!

~ Carla