The Japanese government has announced the 緊急事態宣言の解除 (kinkyū jitai sengen no kaijo, lifting of the state of emergency) across the country, which means many people can technically go back to work.

However, this 解除 (kaijo, lifting/cancellation) doesn’t mean that people in Japan are ready to return to life as it was before.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe described where we are now as the “コロナ時代の新たな日常” (“korona jidai no aratana nichijō,” “new daily life in the era of the coronavirus”). His words were not marked with the same jubilation of the 令和時代 (Reiwa Jidai, Reiwa Era), which began a year ago this month, and people seem uncertain as to what this 新たな日常 (aratana nichijō, lit., new everyday) — or “new normal” — will entail.

While running some errands, I gathered a few thoughts from shopkeepers and neighbors in Kanagawa Prefecture on reopening businesses. The most common words I heard were 怖い (kowai, scary) and 不安 (fuan, anxiety/unease).

“人混みはまだ怖い” (“Hitogomi wa mada kowai,” “I’m still scared of crowds”), the owner of a bakery told me. “第二波がくるかもしれないから怖い” (“Dai ni-ha ga kuru kamo shirenai kara kowai,” “A second wave [of infection] will probably come, that’s scary”).

My neighbor, also named Murayama but no relation to me, is a high school teacher and he worries that “教員も生徒も感染のリスクがあるから職場に戻るのは不安” (“Kyōin mo seito mo kansen no risuku ga aru kara shokuba ni modoru no wa fuan,” “There’s an infection risk from both teachers and students so I’m anxious about returning to my workplace”).

“学校が感染予防の対策をできる限りしたとしても、正解はないから難しい” (“Gakkō ga kansen yobō no taisaku o dekiru kagiri shita to shitemo, seikai wa nai kara muzukashii,” “Even if the school sets out possible infection prevention measures, there is no right answer so the situation is difficult”), Mr. Murayama said, adding that most classrooms don’t pass the 3つの密 (mittsu no mitsu, Three Cs) test — 密閉空間 (mippei kūkan, closed spaces), 密集場所 (mishū basho, crowded places) and 密接場面 (missetsu bamen, close-contact settings) — of things we need to avoid.

一方で (Ippō de, On the other hand), as the Japanese economy has slipped into 不況 (fukyō, recession), some people are worried about losing their livelihoods.

“生き残れるのかな?”(“Ikinokoreru no kana?“, “Can we survive?”), the owner of one 居酒屋 (izakaya, Japanese pub) told me, adding that her bar’s revenue has dropped sharply due to having to operate under limited hours (in Kanagawa Prefecture, drinking establishments must close at 8 p.m.). “4月はなんとか頑張れば乗り切れると思ったけど、だんだん心が折れていく” (“Shi-gatsu wa nantoka ganbareba norikireru to omotta kedo, dan-dan kokoro ga orete-iku,” “I thought that we could just survive April if we tried our best, but I’m gradually losing heart”).

The bar owner is also worried that this 新たな日常 will mean that people won’t be in the mood for 飲み会 (nomikai, drinking parties) for a while. “料理屋として残るっていうのが危機的状況かなと思っています” (“Ryōriya toshite nokoru-tte iu no ga kikiteki jōkyō kana to omotte-imasu,” “To survive as a restaurant has reached a critical phase, I reckon”).

In the face of adversity you will likely hear terms like 大変難しい (taihen muzukashii, terribly difficult) or 心配がある (shinpai ga aru, I have worry). However, the bar owner used terms such as 生き残る (ikinokoru, to survive/hold up), 心が折れる (kokoro ga oreru, to lose heart/hit a wall) and 危機的状況 (kikiteki jōkyō, at a critical phase), which all convey a real sense of desperation.

After hearing this woman pour her heart out to me, I tried to comfort her by ending our conversation with, “きっと大丈夫です” (kitto daijōbu desu, I’m sure things will be OK).

It’s hard to know what life will be like in the 新たな日常, but one thing that’s certain will be to 手洗いうがいの徹底や、マスクの着用などで、感染予防のために最大限気を付ける (tearai ugai no tettei ya, masuku no chakuyō nado de, kansen yobō no tame ni saidaigen ki o tsukeru, wash your hands and gargle thoroughly, wear masks and take the utmost caution in preventing infection). Times are stressful, so be kind to others.

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