WELCOME TO VIEWSDAY TUESDAY. I’m kicking it off with a view from far away: Tokyo, Japan, where my dear friend Matthew lives, also in confinement.
If you’ve read my memoir, you’ve met Matthew. When things went south in the magazine publishing company where I worked, it was Matthew who told me to ask for a package and go to Paris (Chapter 11). And he was among the “family” I’d chosen to celebrate my birthday with me in Paris (Chapter 17).
Matthew and I met at Mademoiselle magazine over 20 years ago, as babies. Matthew has become like a brother to me; we’ve shared our lives on a daily basis since the day we met. Back in New York, Matthew was a part of every day, every routine: we had Sunday dinners at his place every week, drinks at the Soho House regularly. We talked multiple times a day. But back in 2017, he accepted a professorship at a design university in Tokyo, and everything changed.
“You left first,” he protested, when I’d lamented that it was the end of an era. He was right; I was spending more time away in Paris. I hadn’t realized it since I was still keeping a foot in New York. I also hadn’t realized he’d been missing me, that my leaving New York had an impact on his life there. Forever the self-absorbed Grace to his Will, I was only thinking of his impact on my life. Matthew has such a huge social circle that I thought I lifted right out. But not so.
I was supposed to fly to Tokyo this week to visit my friend, but those plans, like so many of yours, have been put on hold. For now, we subsist on daily video chats. We dine together: him dinner and me, lunch (we’re eight hours apart). We complain about confinement; share conspiracy theories, do yoga.
So, what’s lockdown like in Tokyo? “It’s interesting,” Matthew says. “The Japanese have an aversion to fascism after two world wars, so there’s no legal structure for the government to enforce a “lockdown” in the post-WW2 constitution.” They use the word “jishuku,” which means “self-restraint” to encourage the general population to honor quarantine, and they apply local business laws to restrict business hours for bars and restaurants.
“You can go to the park with friends, but the police might ask you to stand further apart from each other. They do not have the right to arrest or fine us.”
The greater Tokyo metropolitan area has over 36 million inhabitants (25% of the total population of Japan)*. Yet despite its dense population, and that of Japan in general, the numbers of cases there remains much lower than Europe or the U.S., and the government has only just recently adopted a nationwide quarantine. Before that, the rules had been more lax than here in France. Matthew could go to a restaurant anytime before 8 p.m. and have a (seemingly) normal meal sitting at normal distances. Now it’s takeout only. The metro now runs on a holiday schedule, but may still be a bit crowded, though nothing like what it was on a normal day. Schools have been closed, and Matthew has been teaching from home for the past three weeks. His work keeps him busy, but for someone who is as social as Matthew is, used to entertaining regularly, lockdown is especially hard. “And with my family in another country, I feel quite isolated.”
I know how you feel, my friend.
About Matthew’s neighborhood
This is a view of Wakamatsucho, which means “Young Pine Neighborhood,” but according to Matthew, there is not one pine tree in sight. He chose this area because of its central location (he bicycles everywhere), and it’s also an easy commute to the university where he teaches. Matthew, as you can see in these photos, has an enormous roof deck, all to himself, that faces northwest. Since Wakamatsucho sits on the highest point in Tokyo, he has views from the Shinjuku neighborhood all the way to Takadanobaba (“High Field of Horses”). But Matthew admits that, other than some light gardening, he’s not using his roof deck during quarantine, nor enjoying his glorious view. Go out there, Matthew! Get a new perspective. Enjoy that terrace for your sister in Paris who is stuck in a tiny studio.
*World Population Review