Countries around the world are in lockdown over the winter holiday season, with various degrees of restrictions. As an American in Tokyo, Japan has felt like a miraculous bubble of normality in contrast with the strict regulations and rapid spread of COVID-19 in the past 9 months of countries like the USA, UK and other heavily-affected countries.

In fact, Japan has only ever had one incident even closely resembling a “lockdown,” which is the State of Emergency that was declared for the period of April 7 to May 25 2020. Since then, various levels of requests have been directed at businesses and travelers about what not to do, but nothing with major enforcement power (実行力) has been set forth. This is due to a lack of legal basis for restriction of travel and other behavior — at most the government can do is strongly request. The situation promises to change, however, as Prime Minister Suga aims to revise a relevant law that would make restrictions on businesses more powerful in the Diet session scheduled to start mid January.

Infection has spread gradually until December 2020, when numbers began to rise rapidly. As I write now, the Mayor of Tokyo has requested the national government declare a State of Emergency again, as soon as possible. The national government is now “considering and consulting with experts.” (Twitterverse has much to say about that: “And what have you been doing up ’til now!?”) Yet, the popular opinion is that the Prime Minister will wait until the law is revised.

Despite the hurricane of COVID-19 ravishing several countries around the world, and the gradually increasing tension in Japan, our small family was able to have a Christmas and New Year’s on par with previous years. One big factor in this is that we are the “Tokyo office” of a much larger firm (read: family) headquartered in Seattle. All of my Christmases have been remote since moving to Japan in October 2011. In that sense, COVID-19 has been a great equalizer because now my American family all, for the most part, connect via video chat. We’ve learned that length of call and seriousness of topic are inversely proportional to the number of participants. We’ve learned not to talk all at the same time. And we’ve learned who to mix and match together. It’s rather businesslike, in a good way. Bonus: I can blame my Christmas presents arriving late to the US due to a major back-up in postal deliveries. This is no joke. When I mailed the presents in November, I was told only via land was available and that they would arrive anywhere between 1 and 3 months later. C’est comme ça.

This holiday season has been a mixed bag. Our family is happy and healthy and our daughter is completely unaware of the extraordinary pandemic. I somehow achieved a personal best at the casual half marathon on December 24, held along the Arakawa River. No warm up but an inkling that I could run a little faster, and lazy competitiveness netted me a time of 1:38:42. This is a full 3 minutes under my previous half marathon PB recorded at a real race — the Tsurugaoka Half Marathon — which I properly trained for. Just another lesson that the universe works in mysterious ways.

Like divorced families with dual custody (that was my family!), bicultural families get to celebrate twice: Christmas and the Japanese new year, oshogatsu. We, of course, take full advantage of this.

Starting off with a local brew from Oregon supplied by my brother, imbibed on New Year’s Eve and culminating in the once-in-a-lifetime, “because COVID-19” splurge purchase of an extravagant new years meal (osechiryouri) by my mother-in-law, this year was by no means lacking. In the back of all of our minds was the likelihood that things would get worse before they would get better, and that we better get while the getting is good. It’s this kind of indulgence that helps catapult us into the self-improvement regimes that are so common during the New Year.

And this year’s omikuji (fortune) was not letting me off the hook. For the last couple years, I’ve been blessed with fortunes on the “lucky” side of the spectrum and life has followed suite. This year gave me a 末吉 suekichi (AKA, not quite lucky). It’s situated so on the grade of luck, with leftmost being most lucky:

大吉 ⇒ 中吉 ⇒ 小吉 ⇒ 吉 ⇒ 末吉 ⇒ 凶 ⇒ 大凶

According to,

大吉-Daikichi: Excellent luck, Great luck, Great blessing
中吉-Tyukichi: Fair luck, some luck, Middle blessing
小吉-Syoukichi: A little luck, Small blessing
吉-Kichi:  Good luck, Blessing
末吉-Suekichi: Uncertain luck, Least blessing, Ending blessing, Near blessing
凶-Kyou:  Bad luck, Curse
大凶-Daikyo: Terrible luck, Certain disaster, Great curse

The omikuji came as a little bit of a wake-up-call. “Don’t take your fortune for granted,” it told me. I was to strive hard at work and at my studies. “But I finished my Masters already!” I thought defiantly.

I can’t deny that there is a kernel of truth in its terse instructions. In my field of communications, one is never done learning. One has to constantly update best practices, keep an ear to the ground for consumer sentiment, and put out high-quality content in order to make the most of the current business situation and achieve the best possible results. This imperative is even more urgent during a global pandemic.

The omikuji was just a gentle reminder that a new year didn’t mean I could just coast. That said, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, so I will mix it up this year and challenge myself. More to write on that later.

Thanks to this reminder, I feel that I can pry myself from the myopia that is a new Netflix subscription and delicious holiday food to transition into a proactive and constructive space new year.

I still haven’t colored in the eye of my daruma and set my goal for this year. That’s on my to-do list.

“planet daruma” by Alessandro Grussu is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

How did this holiday season bring you into the new year? Any realizations or new endeavors in 2021?

One response to “Welcoming 2021, even if reluctantly”

  1. Kerry Avatar

    Really enjoyed reading this, thanks!


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