Happy New Quarantine

We left the UK on the 29th December to return to Japan. The entry procedures were tedious as was the 6 nights we had to spend in a quarantine hotel. There was so much paper involved. We had to fill in forms online and present QR codes, only to also be asked for paper copies of these forms as well. The forms were checked and re-checked as if our passport numbers and information could magically change while walking down the long corridors of the airport. We were watched at all times and made to wear large green tags on our arms with no explanations. We weren’t even told where we were going to quarantine on the bus that was taking us there. The staff were pleasant and friendly, but it was still stressful as we had already been travelling for over 20 hours before getting to the airport and we were exhausted. We know of people who got refused entry to the country or who tested positive on arrival so all the waiting around was difficult.

Our hotel room was tiny but we did have a view. The handles had been removed from the windows and we were not allowed to leave the room. We were given three cold meals a day. They were mostly white rice and it was difficult to eat the same sort of thing over and over. In theory we were allowed to order in things, but in practice this was not very useful as it could not be raw food, hot food, food that needed heating, or food that needed refrigeration. Since everything had to be inspected, packages would be delivered a day after they arrived at the facility. We did bring dried fruit, nuts, and chocolate with us. Some people had tried to travel with fresh fruit and vegetables, but you are not allowed to bring these into the country. Sometimes people get away with it but our baggage was ready hours before we were, so plenty of time for everything to be inspected.

We had to install apps on our phone so that we can be tracked and contacted by the government. This happens at random times during the day and you either have to mark your location or answer a video call. So far we have had 2 video calls a day and 4 notifications to mark our location. This seemed like too much especially as we were in a room we had been assigned to that we couldn’t actually leave. It also means being near your phone at all times and we are not meant to put it on silent, though I have been doing that late at night. We also were expected to get up early in the morning to submit health check forms and our PCR tests took place between 6:30am and 7:am. I have seen the sunrise every day since we got back.

Now we are back at our home and will get out of quarantine on the 14th January. We have had four negative PCR tests in the last week, yet are having to isolate longer than people in the UK who actually have covid.

There is no doubt that the death rate in Japan has been low during the pandemic, but comparisons of case numbers don’t mean much. The UK, at half the size, is testing more than 1 million people a day, and Japan barely manages 50,000. Both countries have completely different strategies for dealing with the pandemic.

Another Year

This time last year we moved house during a state of emergency. One year on and we are at home living with the strictest lockdown Japan has faced. The vaccine roll-out is the slowest amongst wealthy countries with something like 24 million doses sitting in freezers as we struggle to organise the roll-out. The government claims we will have finished vaccinating the elderly by the end of July but that would mean vaccinating about 800,000 people a day, and so far we are averaging less than 50,000 a day.

Just like last year the show I was directing has been cancelled as we can’t safely rehearse in person. But we are moving to do more things online. Today I am editing video files for Cozy Reads, and working on the soundscape for a new YouTube piece. I don’t know if the show I was due to direct in autumn will go ahead, so I am also trying to come up with ideas for content that will work online.

The TIP Youth season was cancelled, but I did manage to put together a workshop where we created a new musical from scratch, which was quite the challenge over zoom. Hopefully I get inspired to come up with other workshops that work over zoom.

I have finished my Advanced Professional Diploma in Teaching Contemporary Singing. I will hopefully get my results in the next couple of weeks. The course took me longer than I had hoped, as the pandemic caused a problem for the practical work, but I am very happy that I was able to pick this back up again and complete the course. I am doing my best to embrace teaching singing via zoom.

Things are not going as I would like, but at least I am being more creative than I was this time last year.

Lack of Control

At the minute life is too full of “ifs”. If the state of emergency is lifted… if we can go back into rehearsal… if people are vaccinated… if it’s safe to travel… if, if, if, if, if. For over a year now it’s felt futile to make plans. Constant uncertainty.

In the beginning I reached out to more people in the same work situation as me but lately I have struggled to do even that. What can I say to people who can no longer afford their rehearsal studios and who are moving into smaller apartments as there is no work in their industry? I will miss my friends who are leaving Japan as they no longer see a future for themselves here.

The Japanese government has made no decision on the state of emergency that is due to be lifted on Sunday. They are going to wait until the last possible moment. Saying it in such a way as if it is a good thing. That they are taking as much time as possible to make the decision, and therefore it should be the right decision. But none of that is helpful to the closed businesses and the people out of work wondering if they have a job or not next week.

The number of cases here has declined significantly since the state of emergency started, it’s just a pity that the amount of testing declined with it, making it hard to know if anything has changed at all. I know far too many people who have been exposed to covid at work who have been told that there is no problem and that working alongside someone all day who has covid doesn’t quality you for a test or to self-quarantine.

The pandemic has shown light onto aspects of Japanese society that were hidden to me before. The use of fax machines to send information, the constant meetings to mull things over, and the slow pace of change. I didn’t know about the stigma surrounding having an infectious disease and that we would create new words for harassing people who were sick along with their families and the doctors and nurses who treat them. The distrust of vaccines means that our news is full of stories about how things are going in other countries to try to encourage our own deliberately slow roll-out.

I am aware that whilst the situation here is frustrating that we are still doing better than a lot of other countries. I also know that it’s not the rosy picture that has been presented in the world news and I have no idea how that view will change as the beleaguered Olympics approaches.

Year End

If we winter this one out, we can summer anywhere.” Seamus Heaney

This has been quite a year. I miss many things. Amidst the sadness and frustration I had some achievements and learnt to appreciate some things I had taken for granted.

I have picked up my studies again and have started teaching online. I resisted this for months as Zoom is not the best format to teach singing. It means changing the exercises and front loading the work. It does seem to be working, though I will go back to in person teaching as soon as that is safe.

I had a number of firsts, my first radio play, first non-singing narration work, and my first time composing for a story book. I have been learning how to edit video and sound files, as so much of what I create is now online.

And whilst most of my theatre work was cancelled I got to finish the year singing traditional carols as part of Say Nothing’s production One Silent Night.

Still At Home

Although there is talk of vaccines and hope that things will be better next year, the show I was due to direct for a performance next spring has been cancelled. It was a difficult decision to make, but there were too many risks in trying to rehearse with a large cast through the winter. I spend most of my time inside and have been working on audio projects and teaching that can be carried out remotely.

Last month I recorded a Shakespeare monologue from my tiny garden, as part of Tokyo International Player’s Shakespeare at Home series.  

Autumn Colours

Autumn has come to Tokyo. I have mostly been inside, so haven’t got to see the changing leaves, though I am aware that peak viewing season has arrived as such things are important in Japan.

The rise of coronavirus cases is constantly on the news. Things in Japan move slowly and the press are failing at coming up with innovative ways to describe inaction. We are on the highest level of alert, but no one seems quite sure what that means. There are no new restrictions and the government programs to “go eat” and “go travel” are still in place. And when government officials say “I feel a very strong sense of crisis” it gets confusing as to why this doesn’t also come with some sort of action.

But large buildings and bridges are being lit up red at night to remind us that we should be vigilant. Let’s hope that the government comes up with something more useful than a light show.

Getting to Rehearsal

I was back in rehearsal this week for the first time since the end of March. There was thought put into how to make sure that the rehearsal was safe, so I was prepared for that, but I had forgotten how uncomfortable it is on the trains. I live too far from the rehearsal venue to walk and I planned to miss rush hour, but in Tokyo trains can get incredibly full at any time of the day. Everyone in the carriage was wearing a mask, and only two people were speaking. The windows were open but it still felt incredibly uncomfortable having so many people so close to me. Guidelines here still suggest two metres between people but it’s often impossible to do that on the trains, I was lucky if I had two inches space around me.

For my second rehearsal I found a different route, one that involved a lot more walking. It took longer to get to the venue but I felt more comfortable and less stressful. There must have been some issue on the train as an announcement was made in Japanese and English asking people to please remember to wear masks and to refrain from speaking. Japanese trains are always quieter than European ones, but now now they are eerie. No one speaks and it seems that no one interacts or smiles. Masks hide so many facial expressions.

We have so many masks. I am always wearing one if I leave the house and it seems that I have spare masks in every bag. There are masks at the front door, to put on if a parcel arrives. Then we get to do the dance of opening the door and waiting for the person who knocked it to move back by two meters while I pick up the parcel. Today I had to sign a piece of paper on delivery. This has been scrapped by most companies and I could see that the delivery person was embarrassed as he expected me to use his pen. (Since I am foreign he is not expecting me to use my own name stamp, though I do have one in the hall.)

Being heard, while wearing a mask, is difficult. And my understanding of Japanese declines when the sound isn’t as clear and I can’t see mouth shapes. Singing with a mask on means that my voice is a little raw today, mostly because I am over singing as I can’t tell if the person I’m singing to at the other end of a room can hear me. These things are not ideal, but if this is what we need to do so that we can continue performing, then we will do it.

One Response to “Getting to Rehearsal”

  1. Ann Pauley Says:

    Glad you are back rehearsing. Take care and stay safe

Long Summer

Life continues to limp on in Tokyo. The extreme heat and humidity is causing death and putting an extra strain on the health system, already burdened by the increase in cases of Covid-19. This is the longest period of time I have spent in Japan and it does not look as if I will be going anywhere this year. At the minute we are not even meant to leave the city. Every day we hear that people should remain on heightened alert, as the situation in Tokyo is still extremely severe. But like everywhere we are becoming fatigued and we may need more than a polite request to stay home.

I have finished teaching summer workshops for TIP Youth. I still find remote teaching difficult as there are always technology issues to deal with. Some of these are caused by the students switching off their cameras or logging out, which is not something they would get away with so easily in an actual classroom. Trying to find ways to deal with how differently people interact via Zoom is tiring. As we continue to do this we will find it easier but at the minute it is still frustrating and draining. That being said the workshops were still fun and I am glad that we went ahead with them.

The show I was meant to be directing for a November performance has been cancelled. Aside from the risks of rehearsing and having people attend there is the issue of making a socially distanced show commercially viable. The theatre we were planning on using is suggesting that we sell 35 seats per performance in a space that was meant to hold around 100! How can anyone pay for a show with such a reduction on the number of tickets?

Renting theatre space in Tokyo is very expensive and many spaces need booked more than a year in advance. Cancelling shows is also problematic because of the lost deposits or even having to pay the full price for the space depending on the contract. One of the groups I work with has already cancelled their February 2021 show as they couldn’t risk waiting as the cancellation fees keep increasing as time passes.

I realise that I don’t sound overly cheerful, but the current situation is difficult.

Screaming Inside Your Heart

The new normal is not something I’m enjoying. We did manage to go away for a week when the restrictions on domestic travel were lifted. It was lovely to spend a week in the mountains though mask wearing, having our temperature checked frequently in the hotel, and the hotel being almost empty was strange.

I have mostly been at home, and losing track of time as each day seems the same. I will be teaching “Acting Through Song” at the weekend, and have been preparing materials. Teaching music online takes more time and more prep as I need recordings of everything to send as students can’t sing along while I play.

Last week I virtually attended the Broadway Teachers Workshop, which I really enjoyed. It made me miss my theatre work. I am not feeling confident that I will get to direct again this year. There has been a cluster connected to a performance in a theatre, that we have used in the past. It’s been on the news for a couple of days and making it less likely that any small production will have an audience in the near future.

Today I braved rush hour trains to do my first narration job that didn’t involve singing. I was nervous as it is surprisingly difficult to read at a measured pace for over an hour. And then there is my Belfast accent that needed to be soften and eradicated in places. But I did it, and the covid-19 era is causing me, like so many others, to make changes to their work.

And just like that I sum up nearly a month in a couple of paragraphs.

Rainy Season

It’s miserable outside. I like the cooler air, but the grey skies and endless rain are not my favourite thing. Like many people I have been spending my days inside and now every excursion outside seems more difficult than it used to be.

Things are far from normal in Japan, even though the state of emergency has been lifted. We are allowed to travel between prefectures again, which I am hoping to do soon. But we still need to be careful about crowded spaces and being in close contact with other people. Last week I went to a recording studio for work, and I’ll be doing the same this weekend. I am happy to have more work but I hate that it means that I can’t see my friends. Going into the studio means that I meet up with strangers. I don’t know what their health is like or where they have been, so I feel that I have to self-isolate between these jobs.

I still don’t know what I’ll be doing for the rest of the year. My studies are on-hold and while I do have plans to direct and go back in to rehearsal in September the final decision has not yet been made as to whether that show will be postponed until next year. I need to put together proposals for summer work but the constant changing of plans has left me lacking in motivation. I have signed up for a couple of online conferences, so hopefully those will inspire me. For now, I’ll just listen to the rain.

Japanese Hydrangea – flower of the rainy season