The day an old, busted water pipe flooded Laura Blackhall’s new home in Ibaraki Prefecture was, surprisingly, not the worst day she’s had this year. In fact, her rushed education in plumbing wound up giving her a whole new set of skills that she used to acquire a steady stream of hot water.

No, Blackhall, 36, saw worse days closer to the start of 2020 as COVID-19 began spreading around the world, decimating the travel industry that she served.

“It was really bleak,” she recalls. “By the end of August, it really set in that it seemed like there would be no inbound tourism for the foreseeable future.”