Letters from Japan: “Dealing With The World Now”

Ask Hilary: Questions From Readers Answered

By Hilary Keyes
April 6, 2020
Ask Hilary

Savvy Tokyo's resident "Love in Japan" columnist, Hilary Keyes, answers anonymous questions from readers on everything from dating in Japan to women’s health issues. Got a question you’d like to ask Hilary? Email it to editorial@gplusmedia.com with the subject "Ask Hilary."

Rather than a single email this month, I’ve compiled some of the questions I’ve been asked regarding the COVID-19 situation into a single article that will hopefully help those who are struggling with the situation. The latest information regarding the pandemic is updated on the link in the red bar at the top of this website.

We can get through this together. #StayAtHome

“What should I even buy if I have to shelter-in-place? I can’t cook—I buy my meals.”

Unfortunately, this might be time for you to learn how to cook—check out Youtube and Cookpad for simple recipes. Or, if you’d rather not do a crash course in home-cooking, consider buying bulk packages of microwaveable rice, instant curries, bags of pasta, and instant sauces. You can opt for healthier options, such as the calorie control or extra protein retort and rice options offered at most supermarkets as well if you’re concerned about the nutritional value of these meals.

You can still buy/order in meals on UberEats, Demaekan, and so on at the time of writing, but some smaller shops are closing earlier than usual, limiting their menus, or requiring a minimum order size before offering delivery. Personally speaking, it’s not fair to ask others to risk their own health and safety, so leave using these services like your very last option, please.

“My (relative) is in poor health/has corona—how do I prepare for the worst when I’m in Japan?”

I sincerely hope that they recover fully and that life will go back to normal for your family as soon as possible. However, when it comes to preparing for the worst, you will need to speak to your employer about bereavement/hardship leave—which you can learn more about in this article.

“I want to leave Japan and come back when things are under control again—can I do that?”

At the time of writing, my understanding is that if you leave Japan without a job or on extended leave, there is a chance that your visa will be suspended—which means you will need to reapply for a new visa if/when you decide to return. Visitors going to an everyday growing list of 70 countries aren’t allowed (forbidden in fact) from returning to Japan even with a valid visa—the only exception being those married to a Japanese national with a copy of their wedding documents/etc as proof.

Check with your nearest immigration office by phoning their helplines, emailing, or if they are open, by going in person (wear a mask!) and asking for more information if you’re not sure what your status will be if you leave Japan.

If you do desperately want to leave, remember that you’ll have to do a quarantine before going to your parents/residence overseas, and you’ll need to handle all other standard pre-exit procedures before leaving Japan as well.

“My apartment is really small, how do I stock up without overwhelming my space?”

First and foremost: do not panic buy. That is the easiest way to end up overwhelming yourself and your apartment. Plus, seeing the piles of things in your apartment can add to your anxiety. Grocery shops are (as of April 6) still mainly operating at their regular hours, so use your daily walk or trip home from work if you are still going into the office, to pick up fresh fruit and veg, and so forth.

If you have a Western-style sofa with space underneath it, slide any dry goods under there for the time being. If not, you probably have suitcases in your closet with nothing in them—they can be temporary cupboards. So can shoe storage areas near your front door. These are especially useful if you have extra bathroom/cleaning supplies—just shift them into this space.

If neither of these options works, go to your nearest home center and pick up a balcony storage box. They look sort of like a pirate’s treasure chest and are made of a weatherproof, heavy-duty plastic (often you can buy locks for them as well; the boxes cost from ¥1500-¥5000). Put whatever you can safely store outside in it for the time being, and you should be fine.

“I have no toilet paper/tissues.”

My friend had to go to his local conbini to use their bathroom because of people hoarding out in the countryside earlier this month, so you have my sympathies.

Toilet paper and tissue stocks are still available depending on where you shop—the point is you need to shop like a retiree. As in, be there in line when the shops open and go straight for the toilet paper/tissue section. All stores across the country have instituted 1 pack per household rules, so no being greedy and hoarding them.

If you’re unable to find the standard packs of either, look for small, pocket-size packets of tissues with nagaseru (流せる) on the label. They’re basically toilet paper in tissue format; flushable, biodegradable, and soft.

“Where can I get the latest information on COVID-19 in Japan?”

If you want official government websites, then the Immigration Services Agency of Japan has a dedicated website, as does the Japanese National Tourism Organization (JNTO), and the Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare.

For the latest news in general on the subject, check out the Japan Today website for all the headlines.

“I can’t speak Japanese. How do I get help if I need it?”

If you need help in a medical emergency, then check out this article which outlines all the easy Japanese you’ll need to talk to call for help, explain your symptoms, and so on.

For non-medical emergencies, you may want to contact your embassy/consulate for further information on what citizens of your home country should do during this situation. 

“I need something to distract myself from all this negative news/during the shutdown.”

Same here! Luckily there haven’t been any significant slowdowns in Japanese internet speeds, so streaming services are relatively reliable. If you like Japanese cuisine, then check out these eight foodie films, there are plenty of J-drama to choose from on Netflix, or if you’re looking for something that’s also kid friendly, there’s Disney Deluxe, which is only available in Japan as well.

If you’d rather chat with people (and possibly fall in love à la Jane Austen with long conversations and not meeting in person because of social distancing), you could join one of the many popular Japanese dating apps out there. Or, if you’d prefer your romance immediate and perfect, there are also plenty of otome games to choose from, that’ll have you falling in pixelated love in no time.

Feeling lonely lately? If you need to vent out or just want to meet fellow Savvy Tokyo readers to connect online (#SocialDistancing), join our Savvy Tokyo Group on Facebook!