Postcard from Tokyo

Tokyo. Summer. Covid waves. The Olympics. Obon. This strange brew gives the city a bittersweet flavor. Oppressive summer days are tempered by unexpected tropic-like rain storms or punctuated by days of drizzle. Police foot patrols and mobile holding cells await non-existent law-breakers. Games volunteers, flecks in the landscape in their co-ordinated synthetic uniforms. International Olympic extras hover in hotel lobbies. Non-socially-distanced lines of residents snake around entrances to vaccine centers. Trains and stations are crowded, but not in the way Tokyoites interpret the word. Restaurants close their kitchens early, yet touts on the streets spruik for late-night establishments. Delivery men and Uber Eats cyclists dash about the streets. Repeated announcements about anti-virus precautions and the incessant whirring of cicadas add eerie layers to the city’s soundtrack. Offices are closed, their businesses conducted remotely, but many more are not. Shops of all sizes have closed their doors for good; others have a thriving trade. And everywhere there are hand sanitisers, thermal imaging cameras and thermometers. And masks, and masks, and masks. In August during a resurgent pandemic, the city hosting an Olympiad, Tokyo’s contradictions are ever more heightened, the place seems ever more surreal.

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