Assistant Language Teacher, Logan Bartnick, Shimada-city, Japan

Logan Bartnick

“Japan is no stranger to masks, with it even having been a fashion statement in some cases before the pandemic. Now with the mask shortage, people began to quickly make home-made ones.”

Logan was born and raised in Danville, CA USA where his family still resides. He went to college at the University of Nevada, Reno where he majored in international business and economics, and took the opportunity to study abroad in Japan while he was in school which later led to his desire to someday live in Japan. This dream quickly became a reality when after college Logan was accepted into a program that sent graduates abroad to teach English in Japanese schools. He’s now facing the pandemic abroad, and working at two elementary schools and one middle school assisting homeroom teachers and English specialists with their classes.

Logan’s COVID Chronicle from rural Japan is extremely different than many tales told from Europe or the United States, because his prefecture is free of any cases, and therefore its residents are not being forced to self-isolate. Logan says that school has been postponed and large gatherings are highly discouraged, but most full-time teachers are still expected to show up to work and restaurants are still open.

He notes that Japan is no stranger to masks in normal times, because they have been considered a fashion statement, even before the pandemic… But now, since cities are facing a shortage, people are getting creative with making their own.

Logan shares his experience facing the COVID-19 pandemic in Japan and how it affected his vacation plans for the country’s holiday “Golden Week,” how he’s trying to pivot the methods for teaching his students when classes pick up again even though there may be serious complications for communication, and details how he keeps busy at home while self-isolating outside of his daily responsibilities (by playing animal–crossing–yes, it’s just as popular, there!). Check out Logan’s COVID Chronicle tale, below:

Logan among the blooming Wisteria trees

Who are you quarantining with and where exactly are you living right now? Is this where you permanently reside or is it a temporary living situation due to the pandemic?

“I live in an apartment in Shimada-city, Shizuoka-prefecture, Japan. It is considered inaka (田舎, rural) with a fairly low population density. I have been living in this apartment for about nine months, and I plan on living here for at least two more years. Due to Shizuoka-prefecture not having many confirmed cases of COVID-19, there are no rules forcing people to self-quarantine.

Therefore, I am quarantining alone, but it is not nearly as isolating as it would be if I were in the US. I still have the option to meet with friends and acquaintances, go out on walks, and go to some restaurants if I wanted to. While Japan has declared a state of emergency, it is not considered “severe” unless you are in one of 17 designated prefectures.”

What has your community been doing to fight the rate of transmission? Is this how you think the situation is best handled?

“There have been two major actions taken by my city: the canceling of any large public event and the postponing of school. Any large festival or party that was being planned or funded by the local government has been canceled, and any other large gatherings have been highly discouraged.

The elementary and middle schools where I work have been postponed for about two months so far, and are scheduled to re-open in about two to three weeks. After seeing how quickly the flu can rip through a school, I do think that this is smart. Oddly enough, most full-time teachers are still expected to show up for work at normal hours and need to use paid vacation if they want to stay out of the teacher’s office. Thankfully, I was given permission to work from home most days.

Other than that, there has been very little done by my city to enforce any sort of self-quarantine. Every day at 12 p.m. I hear a loudspeaker order the city to stay inside when possible, but people still go out. The grocery stores are still extremely crowded in the mornings, the businessmen all still go to work, even the conveyer belt sushi restaurants are still open! Two weeks ago was Japan’s most busy vacationing season, Golden Week, and thousands of people hopped on trains to go on vacation or back home for a visit.”

One of the sushi conveyor belt restaurants that Logan describes

However, the city has been taking action. Restaurants have begun offering takeout options, a notable example being a popular ramen shop giving pseudo “make at home” sets containing all the ingredients prepared and separated. There has also been a large push to use masks whenever possible.

Japan is no stranger to masks, with it even having been a fashion statement in some cases before the pandemic. Now with the mask shortage, people began to quickly make home-made ones. I was lucky enough to receive a mask from a co-worker whose wife made enough for all the people that would be around him.

Lastly, there is some peer pressure to not travel around as much now, and to avoid throwing any parties or get-togethers. People have begun to keep more distance around those who have had to leave the city for some reason,and everyone who does go somewhere will use paid vacation to stay at home for a couple of days afterwards and self-quarantine. There are some people that are doing more, but I do not think that it is enough.” 

A picture of Logan with his homemade masks. The fox mask is a gift from his co-worker, and the other two are from a friend. 

What has been your daily routine so far during the pandemic?

“I have been trying to do a few self-improvement things, like studying Japanese, exercising on a regular basis, cooking for myself more, keeping in contact with more friends, and reading more. I have been trying to use this time to set up some good habits. Despite these little good things, I am still spending quite a bit of time watching Netflix and playing video games (woo for Animal Crossing and Doom Eternal!). When it gets a little later in the day, I always try to make a point of going out for a walk to do a little exploring or see a bit of nature before the sun goes down.” 

Exploring nature

What’s the biggest challenge you think you’ve faced during this quarantine situation?

“Since Japan has had a significantly more relaxed reaction to this pandemic, there have been very few “challenges” that I have had to face. I still have a good amount of freedom to do what I want. If I had to say one thing, it is that I have no idea when school will start again. I have been trying to make schedules and plans for lessons, but due to the dates being pushed back so often I need to keep compressing the same information into shorter timeframes. It does not take too much time to do this, but I am scared the students will not be able to understand the material going at such a fast pace.

Also, when school does start the students may not be allowed to talk with each other or be anywhere near each other. Most of the activities I have used in classes so far have been based around students trying to communicate with each other, and all of those may be out the window now. This seemed a little restrictive for an English class, but I have even heard that the music class for elementary school may need to have the students sing facing the walls so they’re not facing near each other.” 

What have you been doing to keep your spirits up on a day-to-day basis?

“Keeping in contact with my friends and family. Because I am trying to spend more time isolated, I always try to text with people so I don’t get lonely. Looking at how I am making progress on setting up good habits is also nice to reflect upon. Seeing that I have not been just wasting my time is always a nice thing.”

Has this travel ban/quarantine situation impacted any important plans you had laid out for the near future?

“Yes. April 29th – May 6th this year was “Golden Week” in Japan. This is a set of holidays (exact dates change) that are lined up and give people a full week off work, and it is by far the most popular time in Japan to travel. I was planning on going to Kobe and Nara to eat some of the food and see some bowing deer. While I did cancel my plans, a lot of other people around Japan apparently did not.”

Is there anything you feel that this experience has taught you that you’d like to share as inspiration for everyone going through this together?

“I have learned that even if the government or community is not doing much, that is no reason not to take action on your own. While Japan is not taking this as seriously as other nations at this moment, my heart goes out to everyone in the U.S. that is stuck at home, and I am grateful for the emergency services that are fighting this pandemic on the front lines.”

Anything else you’d like to share?

“A few tidbits about daily life I think are interesting to share:

  • It’s curious to note that a lot of still going into work right now can be tied to Japan’s extraordinarily intense business culture, and the communication technology not being integrated as well into schools and businesses.
  • Almost every city, big or small, has a speaker system that plays a jingle at 5 p.m. sharp. The speaker is also used to give urgent information such as COVID-19 announcements.
  • I have seen a few older people going out with plastic bags on their heads and rubber gloves up their elbows. It is a little creepy to see, and difficult to work out how they are breathing…” 
Thanks for sharing your story with us, Logan!

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