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Kizuna 2020: Nikkei Kindness and Solidarity During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Just 10 Weeks Ago

10 weeks ago, I joyfully drank sake and ate the best tonkatsu in Tokyo.

8 weeks ago, I toured snowy Hokkaido tasting their bounty of kombu, oysters, and uni.

6 weeks ago, I played Mahjong with my neighbors and won three rounds in a row.

4 weeks ago, I celebrated St. Patrick’s Day at the local pizzeria. Later that evening, our Governor called for a statewide shutdown.

2 weeks ago, the stock market crashed.

How the world has changed. One moment we were celebrating the first day of 2020 with Oshogatsu ryori. Cheers to a new decade of hope and optimism! Two months later, the world implodes with a deadly pandemic. Everything about my life has been postponed, canceled or shut down. My grandnephew’s first birthday. My nephew’s June wedding. My niece’s baby shower. My monthly book club meetings. The local Haru Matsuri event. The library. The bookstores. The gym. The morning hikes. My favorite restaurants. Planning for our next trip.

The hiking trail that she misses

New words and phrases I have learned over the last four weeks: self-quarantine, shelter-in-place, social distancing, self-isolate, stay-at-home, and Covid-19.

I am finding that I worry more now. I am over 65 and have asthma which places me in the high-risk group. Though I feel perfectly healthy, it makes me feel a bit nervous. I worry for my elderly Nisei aunts and uncles who are in their 90s. I worry for my nephew who is a doctor at NYU. I worry that they will run out of ventilators and hospital gowns. I worry for my neighbor who was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer just a few weeks ago. I worry about my friends and family everywhere, but particularly those in Japan. I worry about the small mom-pop restaurants I’ve come to love so much. Most of all, I worry the world may never be the same again.

The pandemic has brought out the ugliness in people. The most outrageous examples are the racist incidents against Asians because our President insists on calling Covid-19, the Chinese virus. Ignorance breeds hatred. On the opposite spectrum, you have the selfless medical professionals, including those who came out of retirement, dealing with the onslaught of sick patients all over America. These doctors and nurses are sacrificing their own lives to save others. I pray for their safety and am forever grateful to their service.

But behind every dark cloud, there’s a silver lining. Everyone is more sanitation-conscious these days. I hope this good behavior continues even after the pandemic. Fewer cars on the road translate to fewer carbon emissions. My friends tell me the waters off the coast of California sparkle now. I read the dolphins are back in Italy’s Venice. Without Vaporetto boats speeding up and down Venice’s canals, the wildlife is thriving again. The shutdown has given the environment a long-needed break.

Every evening, when I stand in front of our Butsudan, I tell my Dad, “You won’t believe what the world is going through now. It’s so crazy.” My father responds, “Well, glad I’m not there. Gamanshinasai. As with everything else, this too shall pass.”

 

© 2020 Keiko Moriyama

covid-19 Kizuna2020 pandemic racism

About this series

In Japanese, kizuna means strong emotional bonds. In 2011, we invited our global Nikkei community to contribute to a special series about how Nikkei communities reacted to and supported Japan following the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. Now, we would like to bring together stories about how Nikkei families and communities are being impacted by, and responding and adjusting to this world crisis.

If you would like to participate, please see our submission guidelines. We welcome submissions in English, Japanese, Spanish, and/or Portuguese, and are seeking diverse stories from around the world. We hope that these stories will help to connect us, creating a time capsule of responses and perspectives from our global Nima-kai community for the future.

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Although many events around the world have been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have noticed that many new online only events are being organized. Since they are online, anyone can participate from anywhere in the world. If your Nikkei organization is planning a virtual event, please post it on Discover Nikkei’s Events section! We will also share the events via Twitter @discovernikkei. Hopefully, it will help to connect us in new ways, even as we are all isolated in our homes.