At the same time as the second wave of Corona infections is unsettling Tokyo, a heat wave is sweeping through Japan. Even the nights are too hot for a walk outside with our baby, but being in a one room apartment day and night is also not ideal, so we have been taking walks underground instead. We live close to a big department store that is quite uncrowned in the mornings and where the air is cool, and through a culvert we can even reach our grocery store and the train station having just spent a few minutes outside in the scorching heat.
The joys of living in Tokyo have faded away one by one as the pandemic has taken its hold on society. Do not get me wrong – I love Tokyo, I still love Tokyo, I love our little apartment, but in times like this, when social distancing is the recommended way of life apart from staying at home as much as possible, the beauties of living in Tokyo have really been harder and harder to enjoy. No going to museums, parks, no train rides to the mountains or the sea, just long (although happy) days in a small space. Almost the only beauty remaining is the convenience of every day life, like the easy access to stores and hospitals, and this past week we have really enjoyed this beauty of living where we do (having managed to avoid hospitals much to my joy) by taking daily walks in cool beautiful air conditioned surroundings.
As long as we have been avoiding the ground floor of the department store, where all the delicacies are gathering together with the people it seems, I have found myself quite amazed by the fewness of people we have been socially distancing from. That is until we need to take the elevator. The department store’s main building has four elevators and outside each of them is a sign saying that in these times of pandemic please do not be more than four people in the elevator. This turns out to be quite a problem. The other day me and our baby left our lovely wife/mother to do grocery shopping and started to head back home taking an elaborate route to avoid the heat and the people, first going through the culvert, then entering the side building of the department store, taking an elevator to the third floor, crossing over to the main building using a skywalk in order to avoid the people buying delicacies in the basement, and then taking an elevator down to the first floor lobby where we had decided to meet.
I was confident we would reach our designated meeting point long before my wife, who after shopping was taking the normal overground-outside-in-the-heat-route. The first elevator was ok – we have found some hidden cargo elevators that also can be used by customers and there are rarely any people there. However, reaching the main building of the department store me and our baby came to what seemed like a dead end. We stood waiting in front of the elevators only to see each one of them full of people as they reached our floor. Even in normal circumstances I could not fit me and our stroller in the elevator, and now in corona times I did not even want to try to share such a small space with twice our three times the number of recommended people.
I do not really know how long we waited, but stuck on the third floor I had time to think many thoughts. One of them was that now I understand why there are so few people walking around in the department store – they are all riding the elevators to go to the delicacies. Another one was that it seems like when riding any form of public transportation in Japan, if I may allow myself to call elevators public transportation, the normal curtesy and kindness I meet everywhere else appears to be thrown out the window (discussed in length here and here when it comes to commuting in Tokyo). Standing with a stroller in front of the priority elevator with signs saying it is meant for strollers and wheel chairs, I might as well have been invisible. Every time the elevator stopped and the doors opened, no one inside made an effort to get out and offer me and our stroller space, even though the escalators is ten meters away and there was not a single wheel in the elevator.
The third thing I was pondering while waiting for a miracle to happen, was that in Japan a stroller is called a bebi–ka–, a baby car – oh wonders of Japanese English! When we finally made it to the meeting point (there were two elevators arriving at the same time and one of them was miraculously empty), my wife was waiting for us, texting, wondering where we had disappeared to. At that time I was dreaming of the three of us escaping the people in Tokyo, taking the baby car for a drive to the mountains – how I long to go to there again.
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