Tokyo Is Proof That The City You Love Will Come Back

Tom Matsuda

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Many are now prophesying that the world as we know it is over. All the old rules of yesteryear are now replaced with post-pandemic predictions of remote working, socially distanced gatherings and Zoom parties. In particular, the idea of one’s spatial location is argued to become less important in the forthcoming years.

With the advent of remote working, many have talked about how the city will become less important as people trade the expenses of urban living for cheaper and calmer countryside living. This goes against years of prediction that 68% of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050. However, many flock to cities for reasons apart from work. People like me are paying rent not just to be close to one’s place of work or study but also because we love living in the big city.

For years, cities have been places of sanctuary for those that feel lost and/or made to feel different. Being not only gay but also mixed race, I’d feel uncomfortable suddenly uprooting myself from the concrete jungle and putting myself in the idyl countryside, as beautiful as it is. For me and many others, urban environments will always be a sanctuary for the outsiders like us and thus a place where we can all converge.

Whereas in the English countryside, I’ve always felt a feeling of unease. Whilst not everybody is close-minded in rural areas, communities are often more homogenous and wary of outsiders. Due to a lack of interaction with minorities, awareness in specific regards to ways of speaking to people of colour and the LGBT community is low. In the big cities, however, I can be anonymous and not fear the many micro aggressions that come with ignorance. The city is and always will be my safe space.

In other words, the city will survive for another reason apart from work. Tokyo’s slow return to normality is proof of this. As lockdown is eased and people start to return to restaurants, cafes and bars, Tokyo is once again pumping blood back into its concrete heart. Although many are still working remotely, there are no signs that people plan to move to the countryside to escape rent which is as sky-high as Tokyo’s towering skyscrapers.

Having said that things are not the same. Firstly, surgical masks are so widespread that it almost seems as if they’re etched onto the faces of the Tokyo population. Secondly, not everybody is out although it may seem like it due to how densely populated the city. Lastly, there is a distinct lack of large events and crowded spaces, both of which Tokyo is famed for.

Yet, there is a feeling of a slow and steady arrival at the new normal that the Japanese government is advocating. It’s an approach that been made possible by a happy medium of social distancing policies, frequent disinfection and mask-wearing.

Hopefully, this is something that all cities will arrive at soon. In Western cities, that are dealing with the dual crises of systemic racism and a pandemic, it may take longer. Much of what we’re currently experiencing needs to be throughly understood and the lessons learned thereafter need to be implemented with long-term goals. The pandemic and the civil rights movement are both things that need to be learned from. Most, understandably, do not want a return to the norm of life before this.

Tokyo shows however that this will not happen. Whilst it is not dealing with a crisis of systemic racism currently, Tokyo appears to have learnt adequately from the pandemic. A new normal does not mean a hankering back to the world of 2019. But it does mean that aspects of life that we took for granted last year will slowly creep back into our lives. Albeit with aspects of the pandemic blended.

It may seem like a far off prospect as this point but Tokyo shows that it will happen. The city is an embodiment of lessons learned and traditions that rolled over from 2019. People are going out but keeping distance. Events occur but in small groups all wearing masks and in ventilated spaces. Bars and restaurants are open but require sanitisation before entering.

The Tokyo that I love is back alive and kicking - yet to a slightly different beat. And as soon as restrictions lift around the world, so will your city too. Whilst we will have to be continually mindful of a second wave, parts of our lives will return. The land of the rising sun is already in its new normal and soon the whole world will be too. Just be patient.

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British-Japanese writer from London. Words in OneZero, Human Parts.

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