May the Pfizer be with you

My partner is a doctor so from day one of the COVID crisis I have been listening to a few mantras: 1) Vaccinations don’t stop people from getting infected, they lessen the severity if you do, 2) COVID is basically a cold virus so learning to live and deal with it, with good treatments instead of vaccinations, is the best long term adaptation, 3) Extensive PCR testing is a waste of time and money (especially at this stage, but a good money maker for the providers).

When the local city government started the vaccination reservation program in June we signed up for a first shot today, July 30. It seemed like an easy decision then, but as reports from heavily vaccinated Israel and UK that infections were picking up because of the Delta variant, which the Pfizer and Moderna vaccinations don’t cover, the mood started to change in the Japanese medical community for vaccinating low risk groups. A wait and see mood as a safer Japanese developed vaccination is said to be available by the end of this year. Better to wait for a new improved vaccination than a 3rd round of the same old current one that is loosing traction. Sure enough vaccinations rates started to stall this week as similar sentiments spilled into the general public.

And there is the vaccination certificate brouhaha. I want to visit my father next spring but getting a vaccination now means I have to get it all over again as the Pfizer•Moderna shots are only good for 4 months…if vaccination certificates are required to travel from Japan to America. As of today, they are not, although things can and do change every single day.

And so it went with every new piece of research and field report. Reasons to get vaccinated, reasons to wait. In the midst of uncertainty I was thankful for the relatively level headed Japanese approach compared with hysteria and politically driven media narratives in America. The most level headed piece I read was a recent Slate piece, The Noble Lies of COVID-19, that helped me understand the USA situation, along with Alex Berenson’s Here We Go Again and the long detailed On Driving SARS-CoV2 Extinct by Heather Heying and Bret Weinstein.

After talking about it all week we decided to go ahead with our vaccination reservations. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have any reservations about it. I think a lot of people are feeling the same. The most important thing one can do is take care of their health. Stay safe, stay healthy.

The COVID vaccination experience in Japan

I saw a well dressed man getting on the Yamanote train yesterday. He was youngish and looked very professional but stood jarringly out of place without a face mask. I have not seen a person without a face mask on any train in over a year. Then I remembered, almost 4 million front line medical workers in Japan have received COVID vaccinations, he was probably a doctor. As the vaccination program ramps up in Japan we’ll see more people without masks riding public transit. A nice sign that normal life is slowly returning.

One of the interesting things about getting COVID vaccinations in Japan is that medical authorities recommend being accompanied by a friend, family member, partner, etc. Don’t do it alone. I understand why. I always feel lousy after getting my annual flu shot, sometimes less, sometimes more but always lousy. Japanese blogging their experience after getting the COVID vaccination suggest that you will feel very lousy for most of the day you get it. Lay down lousy, not shuffle through the work day lousy. Consider yourself lucky if side effects are light. I don’t look forward to it, but will do the duty when my number comes around.

Merry Cashless Christmas 2020 Style

Nice Christmas colors…

A young co-worker tested positive for COVID yesterday so today is PCR test day for the entire office. The office pays but everybody has to find a testing place on their own. Fortunately a PCR test place opened up at Shinjuku Kabukicho yesterday and accepts all major cashless payments including Suica so I was in luck and made an online reservation.

If you go, all you do is make an online reservation, receive an email with name, number and time, then line up with everybody else. When it’s your turn to enter, show your smartphone email number and name to the staff, pay with Suica, iD, QUICPay, etc. (Rakuten Pay), take the pouch and go to to any empty partition then drool into a vial with a straw. When done, put straw in vial, cap it, stick your label on, put in plastic pouch and give it the staff.

It’s a dire but perfect setting for a cashless only operation: limited time and staff processing a constant stream of people who can’t be bothered making change. Staff and customers don’t want to risk health either, the less contact the better for all concerned. It’s also the perfect 2020 Japan cashless wrap up: a cashless only COVID PCR testing facility in a year where COVID relentlessly drove cashless use.

As they say in Japanese: やれやれ.

Have a good cashless…and a Merry COVID free Christmas.

Monk’s Trail Race overcomes a tough run

Poor Minobusan cannot catch a break. The Shugyoso Monk’s Run Trail Race profiled in 2014 was cancelled in 2018 due to major typhoon inflicted damage on the Minobusan~Shichimensan trail. Denied use of the full course, race organizers made do with mini races covering usable parts of the trails. This year’s challenge was greater than ever: the COVID crisis almost cancelled it altogether.

To keep it alive Rev. Yuji Komatsu of Takeibo and the resourceful Shugyoso organizers opted for a 17 km ‘mini course race’ up and down Shichimensan this year, limited to 50 runners each on November 21, 22, 28, 29 with COVID protocols in place to limit crowding. It’s an encouraging sign that all race slots sold out.

The first race on November 21 went very well. The weather was clear and warm. Organizers did a good job taking care of the race and racers. Everybody was relaxed and enjoyed a good time. Final race results ranking the best times of all 4 race days are posted on the Shugyoso FaceBook page (Japanese).

If all goes well the road linking Minobusan and Shichimensan will be completely repaired and once again open for Monks Trail Race event.

The course this year is half of what it usually is, up the Omotesando trail of Shichimensan and down the Kitasando trail

Tokyo commuting in tough times

Many Japanese companies have implemented telework or flex time during the COVID-19 crisis so that employees can avoid Tokyo rush hour. My office has shorter hours so I take a later train. Tokyo train commuting has become a little surreal over the past week. Seats are actually available on the inner Yamanote line from Shinjuku before 9.

Most people wear face masks and don’t talk on the train but masks are still in short supply at the local drug store. I have to line up before store hours to get a box. Fortunately my partner, a doctor, bought hand sanitizer and mask sanitizer back in January before supplies disappeared. I use, and re-use 2 face masks with mask sanitizer and also have carry spray bottle of ethanol for hands. I don’t touch anything if at all possible, I lean on something instead, but the hand spray comes out the moment I go out the transit gate. There’s also my regulation hand wash and gargle routine when getting to the office, or returning home. I recommend Apple Pay Suica on Apple Watch if that’s a commute option, it removes the necessity of touching the iPhone.

If you have to commute for work like me, I suggest dressing on the warm side or have a scarf handy. Dressing for a comfortable commute is always a challenge but most cars now have a window or two open for good ventilation. On the Tokyu Ikegami line the staff are opening half the car windows 5 cm or so. It can be quite chilly even with the heat on.

Have a safe and healthy commute.