Travelers who had gone before, warned me: prepare for a culture shock. I truly was prepared on many things. But one moment I was desperate, because the Tokyo Marathon 2020 was cancelled, the next I’m on my way back in an almost empty plane, in the midst of the Covid19 crisis. Corona brought a whole new perspective on our Japan adventure. The arrival hall at Schiphol airport, void of passengers, said it all: Something definitely is not okay.
When my friend asked me, what I thought of Japan, I answered: “If you don’t want to get sick, go to Japan!” The contrast with the Netherlands couldn’t be any bigger. Chinese, Iranian and Korean tourists were banned from entering Japan since end of January. By end of February all major attractions and events (including the Marathon) were closed or cancelled.
If you don’t want to get sick: go to Japan.
Musea, the Imperial palaces, sumo tournaments and Anime studios were not accesible. Not that we minded, the weather was beautiful, it was quiet in the parks and the gardens were just amazing. So much to admire!
The bamboo grove in Arashiyama, the villa of Okochi Sanso were free from any big tourist groups. Restaurants were open, so were bars and shops. Everyone was respecting everybodies personal space. All shops, restaurants, bars, hotels provided hand sanitizer, everyone was respectful. And yes, it is true: in Japan everyone wears a face mask. But not all regulations were sourced in the Corona virus outbreak.
The Japanese have personal hygiene embedded in their culture. No one coughed, no one sneezed nor spit on the street. You can’t eat or drink while walking. You won’t find trash in the streets, because you take your trash home. No trashcans that can be emptied by birds. You pay wireless and if you do use cash, it doesn’t go from hand to hand, but through a special dish. In all my years of traveling I never saw cleaner hotel rooms. That Covid 19 caused some extra measures to be in place like no more breakfast buffets or sushi belts to prevent cross contamination, were a logic evolvement.
In Japan there is no eating, drinking, spitting, coughing or sneezing in the streets.
And all of these measures seemed to have a positive effect. The number of patients in Japan as of today is 1307 patiënten, 47 of whom died. And 712 of those patients came from the Diamond Princess, the cruise ship that was moored in Yokohama for 3 weeks. In the Netherlands, we have 6440 patients, with the death count now on 435. If that has something to do with all the measures and regulations or because of the lack of testing and transparency on the Japanese side, is something that time will tell.
We, the tourists, were very conscious of the threat of Corona and the limitation brought with it. Still, we were able to enjoy our travels and most of all, Japan. The arrival on Schiphol airport therefor was surreal.
Not the trip to Japan was a culture shock. Our coming home in Amsterdam was.
And then I was home. In Amsterdam. The coffeeshops were open, so were the restaurants and bars, tourists were crowding the Museum square and the mayor of Amsterdam told everyone to enjoy their drinks in bars and clubs. Life as usual. Except, it wasn’t. The call from Mayor Halsema proved to be a very stupid one, very fast. The contrast with Japan, couldn’t be any bigger. While in Brabant (South of the Netherlands) the Corona virus wreaked havoc, because of the Carnaval 2 weeks earlier, and the IC’s were overworked, the rest of the Netherlands didn’t seem to get the seriousness of Covid 19.
Dutch returning home from Austria and Italy weren’t checked or quarantined.
I wasn’t checked on Schiphol Airport. Nor were the tourists returning home from Austria and Italy. We weren’t quarantined. Up to last weekend people were going to the hairdresser and nail salon, despite the social distancing regulations. I saw whole groups of bikers and runners.
The lack of respect for personal space and most of all hygiene with the people of Amsterdam was shocking. So was the lack of sense with of a lot of people, not in the least of our mayor, Femke Halsema. It doesn’t do for a person in public office to give the wrong example. She should be enforcing the rules, stated by our institution of Health (RIVM) and government. She of all people should make it clear what is expected of us. So, all in all, it was not my trip to Japan that caused a culture shock. Returning home to Amsterdam, amidst the Corona crisis, was. It certainly brought me some perspective in my disappointment of the cancellation of the Marathon of Tokyo. And Rotterdam. And London. And Paris. And indeed, the Olympics. I think it’s going to be a great and busy fall season. As long as we all, even in Amsterdam, realize that this is not the time to be stupid and selfish. Have some sense.