Coronavirus, COVID-19, Japan, Mask, Masks, Omicron

Masks Are Finally Off in Japan. Or are they?

The Japanese government has officially dropped its request for people to wear masks indoors. This was announced as expected, but it doesn’t seem to have the effect that people thought.

On the trains, by far most people are still wearing masks. So the end of the request doesn’t seem to be affecting people’s actions. Will people give up masks eventually, or are they here to stay?

That’s a bit hard to predict. Perhaps people simply still aren’t ready for such a big change. But they might get there eventually. Once people feel more at ease about COVID, they are likely to take off their masks.

If nothing else, it has been an interesting social experiment. We finally have definitive evidence that the Japanese people simply want to wear masks and are not just wearing them because they are asked.


Asia, China, Japan, Life & Culture, new year, World

Chinese New Year!

The Chinese New Year officially started on Sunday, January 22nd! This year is the year of the rabbit. In Japan, the biggest Chinese community resides in Yokohama, Kanagawa where there is also the largest Chinatown. Yokohama’s Chinatown is over 150 years old and was originally settled by Cantonese people. Now it holds about 250 Chinese owned businesses. There are additional Chinatowns in Kobe and Nagasaki.

The Lunar New Year goes by multiple names such as the Chinese New Year or Spring Festival and is a celebration for many. Typically, those who celebrate take time to clean their home and gather for a large dinner on the night before the New Year. Moon cakes are a popular sweet eaten during this time. Additionally, on New Year’s Day, fireworks are lit.

 Therefore, for the first time in 3 years, Yokohama’s Chinatown will hold various events and performances spanning over 15 days. Yokohama has been hosting the Lunar New Year celebration since 1987 with the exception of the pandemic.

You can see traditional lion and dragon dances as well as acrobatics, traditional costumes, and parades. The events will mainly take place in Chinatown and Yamashitacho Park on the weekends. On the last day, February 5th, there will be a lantern festival at the shrine, Ma Zhu Miao. The lantern festival traditionally marks the end of the Lunar New Year celebration.

I hope everyone enjoys their start to the New Year and has a fulfilling year!


Asia, China, Coronavirus, COVID-19, Economy, Health, new year, USA, World

Happy New Year!

Well, if you’re reading this, congratulations — you’ve made it to 2023! The previous year certainly saw its share of ups and downs. I can’t say it was all smooth, but in some ways it was an improvement. Hopefully, 2023 will be even better.

It’s hard to predict what will happen this year. But it does seem that COVID is going away, at least as a pandemic. The world economy seems to be improving, too, at least it seems that way in the U.S. Maybe these are good signs for the future.

But, in other areas, the outlook isn’t so bright or cheery. The war in Ukraine continues on with no end in sight. China and other dictatorships are also on the rise. Whether they will continue to do so remains to be seen, but we all have to be vigilant.

All in all, 2023 could be the best year the world has seen in a good while. I still fondly remember when we all thought 2021 would magically end all the bad things about 2020, but they ended up mostly continuing throughout the year. Let’s hope we can finally put those things to rest this year.


Christmas, Japan, Life & Culture

Merry Christmas!

We are just days away from Christmas, and I think we are all getting prepared. Many of us have already spent a pretty penny on buying gifts, mailing holiday cards, and other such activities. Some folks will no doubt buy Christmas cake, too, which is mostly a Japanese tradition.

As for me, I’m pretty much done with my preparations. I’ve spent quite a bit on mailing things overseas. But will I buy a Christmas cake? Hm… probably not. But I rarely say no to cake, so we’ll see.

Of course, Christmas in Japan is not a religious holiday. It’s simply an excuse to have fun and enjoy illuminations. But it shouldn’t be understated how much Christmas has been absorbed into Japanese culture.

So, as we try to complete all the work we have to do before the end of the year, please don’t forget to have a Merry Christmas. The best Christmas present of all is getting some holidays to spend quality time with our friends and family. Merry Christmas!


COVID-19, new year, Omicron, Tokyo

Tokyo Metro Subway Trains Won’t Operate After Midnight on New Year’s

Well, it’s official — the Tokyo Metro subway system won’t run trains after midnight on New Year’s Day, which will complicate people’s plans for celebrating the New Year.

This is ostensibly to prevent the spread of COVID, but it’s not clear how this is intended to help. Will COVID only come out after midnight? It doesn’t make much sense, but I think we all know by now that Japan is extremely slow (and reluctant) to change with the times.

All this does is add inconvenience and burden on those who are trying to celebrate the holidays. The main mode of transportation available to many Tokyoites now is expensive taxi rides. How is this helping?

This will likely be the first New Year’s in three years that many people will be celebrating it somewhat close to normal. This news simply complicates matters. But Japan will likely stay in its current mindset for a long time to come.


Christmas, Life & Culture, Seasons

Christmas Is Right Around the Corner

It’s already early December, and while it may feel that Christmas is almost a full month away, it will get here a lot quicker than you expect, so if there are errands you need to run, and things you need to prepare, now is the time to do it. You can never be sure that the packages you send overseas will arrive on time. You shouldn’t wait another day before sending them.

But December is always a busy month for everyone, and it can be really tough to find the time. But that’s no excuse to procrastinate. Who wants to receive Christmas cards and presents after the holiday has already passed? It defeats the whole purpose of doing it in the first place!

This is especially true as the American postal service has dealt with poor leadership in the last few years. Prices have gone up while service has gone down. It’s the worst of both worlds, but it is the situation we all have to face. The only way to get around is to make sure you send what you need to send even earlier than usual.

But, as busy as this makes us all, don’t forget to have fun. After all, that’s what it’s all about. The holidays are supposed to bring us closer to friends and family. So let’s all enjoy the holidays as much as we can.


Asia, China, democracy, Politics, World

Protests in China Surprise the World

Not since 1989 have protests in China become so widespread. In the 30-plus years since young people protested their repressive government, it seemed that the era of such open expression was over in China. Recent events seem to prove otherwise.

This is quite good news for the rest of the world. Just like Iran, the people in China are fed up with their government controlling every aspect of their lives. But a total overthrow of the government would seem unlikely. Even a revolution in Iran still seems like a remote possibility.

But China would appear to be even a less safe bet for any radical change. Already, Chinese propaganda has moved into high gear, trying to drown out news of these protests. Their efforts don’t seem to be working. They have already become major news around the world.

Will they continue? That remains to be seen. China certainly has the resources to stamp out such demonstrations. But if the people are motivated, they could keep going no matter what. What do they have to lose?

For a while, dictatorships appeared to be on the rise, and democracy was on the ropes. But the people living under dictatorships are starting to speak, and they are choosing another way. Let’s see how far their efforts take them.


Coronavirus, COVID-19, Health, Japan, Mask, Masks, Omicron, Trends

Is COVID Finally Over?

The news is reporting that Japan may be on the brink of its next COVID wave, but has anyone really noticed? For those of us who have been vaccinated and boosted, it seems like a non-issue.

Let’s also not forget that the borders have reopened, and Japan is finally accepting tourists from abroad. Japan seems to be getting the message, but there’s likely still a long way to go. It’s anyone‘s guess as to when things will return to normal.

Some suggest that may never happen, that we will never return to a pre-2020 lifestyle in which most people don’t wear masks on trains, etc. Japan, of course, has a much longer history of mask-wearing than the West. So it’s a fairly natural conclusion to reach.

But more and more people aren’t wearing masks on trains. The more time passes, the more this trend will continue. I’m sure most Japanese are waiting for a signal from the government to stop mask-wearing, but it’s unclear whether something like that will ever come.

As Japan gears up to deal with the next COVID wave, it’s important to take your own health into consideration. If you’re reasonable healthy and have been boosted, you probably don’t have anything to worry about. And that’s a very good thing.


Asia, Japan, The United States of America, USA, World

American Fighter Jets in Okinawa

The presence of the American military in Okinawa has been an ongoing battle particularly these last few years between the Okinawan local government, the Japanese Parliament, and the US. To start, Okinawa hosts the most US bases in Japan which brings with it a trove of issues. 

Okinawa has argued that they should not be overrun by a foreign government’s military and this arrangement was forced upon them by both the Japanese central government and the US. However, with the threat of China forcibly taking control Taiwan looming and North Korea’s constant missile firings, the Japanese government and US will not budge or take the local Okinawans opinions into account. They are currently more concerned with international conflict than domestic issues.

This week the US announced that they would continue their usual military presence in Okinawa but phase out the F-15 fighter jets. Instead, they will have a temporary rotational force, but the Defense Department currently does not know what the long-term plans will be. The US is carefully trying not to send a signal to China that they are less committed to protecting Taiwan.

This move can be confusing. Is the US reducing forces in Japan? Are they phasing out old jets and replacing them with new ones? I guess until the long-term plans are announced, we do not know what the aim is or the effect it will have.


Coronavirus, COVID-19, Japan, Life & Culture, travel, World

Japan Is Open!

On October 11th, Japan made a big step in opening up to tourists for the first time post COVID. Tourists are highly encouraged to be vaccinated when entering the country, and the previous restrictions that included a package tour and visa requirements were dropped. Furthermore, there is no longer a 50,000 person daily cap on new arrivals. This week, Kishida relaxed the taboo surrounding traveling even more by downgrading travel advisories for 76 countries meant for people going abroad. This means that the government is basically giving the “ok” for international travel.

This is huge news for those who have been waiting several years to enter Japan which is one of the last ones globally to open for tourism. However, this news does mean that popular, historical cities like Kyoto will be much busier and congested to the detriment of residents. Locals will need to get used to hosting tourists again and all the crowds that comes with that. 

On the bright side, these new provisions should help boost the tourism industry that has been severely damaged and frankly hanging on by a thread. Due to the weak yen, that Brett sensei mentioned in his earlier articles, people from abroad (like the United States) will get more value for their currency and in turn, will be able to spend more here. Although now it is too early to see the results of this opening. Rather than the flood gates opening, I expect it will be a drizzle that grows little by little.