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Coronavirus in Tokyo, Day 1: School is Canceled

So as a little update, life has changed a lot more than I expected with this whole coronavirus craziness. Initially, you just saw more people wearing masks, then we were advised to wash our hands frequently. Then, I started hearing that some schools where a teacher or student was found to be infected would be temporarily closed for 14 days. Even with all this, I was living unaffected and saw it as some distant minor issue that would blow over before I ever felt the impact of it.

And then, before I knew it, it started to affect me personally. I had signed up for a Japanese speech contest on March 7, and had invited a number of Japanese teachers and friends to come watch. Then, we were all informed that the audience would no longer be able to attend. This was the first thing.

One morning, I arrived to school and there were two masks placed on all the teachers’ desks. Apparently, they are almost impossible to get your hands on now, and even if you do find them, they’re quite expensive.

One after another, other volunteer events that I had been looking forward started to get cancelled. I had been planning to go hiking up Mt. Takao with a couple Japanese friends, but we decided to call this off as well.

Advisories soon started coming out from the JET Programme and AJET to us Assistant Language Teachers that we should take extra precautions. They said we should stockpile food, water, toilet paper, and medicine in preparation for scarcity. Even then, I wasn’t taking it seriously, but when I decided to go buy some rice, my supermarket had been stripped bare in many essential areas.

On Thursday, February 27th, after I got home from school, I heard that Prime Minister Abe had announced that all schools would stop classes from March 2nd until April. Even then, I thought that perhaps, since ours is a private school, we would be exempt. Upon arriving at work on Friday morning, I heard that all schools were cancelling classes. As for the teachers, we would still go to the office, but our starting time was shifted down to 10:30 AM to avoid the commuter rush. Even so, teachers were to take our temperature every morning before coming to school, and if it is 37.5 degrees or higher, we must stay home.

So, that ended up being my last day of classes. As of April, my teaching schedule changes entirely, so this was the last time that I would be teaching these students. It was quite a sad day for me.

Final exams, entrance exams, and the graduation ceremony were all set to occur in March. So, naturally, these cannot take place as planned. Parents will not be able to attend graduation, and instead of all the students getting together in the large gymnasium, they will be handed their diplomas in their classrooms, while listening to a broadcast over the loudspeaker.

I had been hoping to see the lovely and affectionate students one last time before they go off to university or their new jobs, but now, I will likely never get to see them again. We had promised to exchange contact once they are not longer students, but this will never happen now.

In preparation, the kitchen ladies started getting out old packed food that were beyond their expiry date. They were all placed in a large box, free for teachers to take home.

I was able to nab several goodies, nori, black currant jam, and various different soups.

One of the most curious things to come up was two small cans of shark fin soup. They looked a little rusty, and upon closer inspection, sure enough…they’re from 2008. They’ve been lingering in the school kitchen for over 12 years!

I spoke to several students today about how they feel. Although a slight majority were happy to have the month off, many were sad and expressed that they would miss their classmates. It’s quite the unfortunate situation, and I wish them all the best!

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