FANTASTIC VOYAGE: 20 thoughts of 2020


Here are an assortment of my thoughts, some serious, some not, about the past year:

• Skills I gained this year: I am better at teleconferencing, gardening and washing my hands.

• If someone from 2019 told me those were the skills I would acquire, I would’ve been really confused.

• I actually don’t think the Japanese government’s response to the pandemic was significantly better than the U.S. Rather, the willingness of the people to comply with suggestions to wear masks and to limit travel made all the difference.

• In fact, the Japanese government got cocky and implemented a national travel campaign to encourage tourism to prop up the economy, which later backfired as cases increased.

• Japanese culture in general has probably helped slow the spread, since bowing is more common than handshakes and hugs.

• To be fair though, cautious people in the U.S. are much more careful than people in Japan. I don’t know anybody here that wipes their groceries or mail down, and curbside pickup from the supermarket is not available.

• But people that don’t take precautions in America work really hard at not taking those precautions.

• In the early stages, there were various shortages here ranging from toilet paper to instant noodles. Frozen foods and instant noodles were largely popular since school was canceled, and yet many parents still had to go to work.

• My hope is that there won’t be a bunch of 12-year-olds with high blood pressure in a few years.

• Here’s a random pro tip: If you are in a public setting and you absolutely must cough, you can try to cover up the sound by farting loudly.

• This year was actually great for me because I could spend more time with my kids.

• But this year was long for my kids, because they had to spend more time with me.

• A student I teach caught COVID-19 (he fully recovered), and I was able to get tested the next day, and got the (negative) results by that evening. Despite the minimal amount of testing in Japan, they do a good job with it.

• I was talking to a family with a 101-year-old grandmother in the household. They noted that while she had lived through both pandemics, she was too young to be aware of the Spanish flu, and too old to understand the effects of COVID-19.

• On the positive side of the pandemic, I’ve seen an amazing burst of creativity from friends and family. Whether it’s artists picking up brushes or dusting off cameras, sourdough-making culinary aficionados, or historians putting their knowledge out into the podcast universe, I’ve never seen such a deluge of new ventures, or old ventures revisited as this year.

• As for myself, I managed to read about 20 books this year, way more than I’ve ever read before in a 12-month span.

• That being said, at 700-plus pages for volume 1, Former President Barack Obama’s book “A Promised Land,” aka “Barack Obama – Barack Obama-ing,” proved that you can get too much of a good thing.

• Because of all the mask wearing, I’ve taken to smiling with my whole face, so that even if the other person can’t see my mouth, they know that I’m smiling and being friendly.

• One day when the pandemic is over and we all put away our masks, I’m going to walk around looking like I’m deranged.

• This year has been very challenging, but I hope we can all move forward into the next year occasionally serious, occasionally silly, but always moving forward and never forgetting the people that make life worth living. Have a happy and safe 2021!

Jeff Asai, a Yonsei who grew up attending the San Jose Betsuin Buddhist Church, writes from the town of Asuka, Nara Prefecture, where he serves as an assistant minister at a Jodo-shu temple, Jokokuji, teaches English and lives with his wife Yae Hosokawa with their children Madoka and Yui. He can be reached via e-mail at

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