Japanese singer-songwriter Junko Yagami, who scored a series of pop hits following her debut at age 20, has been active in the United States since 1986, but she began holding concerts in Japan again in 2012. Below, she reflects on her experiences when she temporarily went back to the U.S. during the coronavirus pandemic, and how the situation differed from that in Japan.
I returned to the United States for the first time in a year and a half. I wanted to see my family whom I hadn't been able to see for a long time. Los Angeles, which had gone through multiple lockdowns, no longer requires people to be quarantined after arrival if they have a negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test result, thanks to the improved vaccination rate and infection situation.
I had finished recording my new album "TERRA -- here we will stay" (terra means "earth" in Latin,) and I decided to take a trip back to the U.S. for just five days before my August concert tour "The Night Flight 9" was due to begin. At the time, I didn't expect my five days in Los Angeles to be a series of surprises.
My first shock was seeing the "vaccine site." After going through immigration procedures and customs, I passed into the arrival lobby at the airport and found a new shop that looked like a restaurant. I wondered what kind of store it was, and took a look to discover that it was a place offering people the COVID-19 vaccine of their choice -- Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, and Johnson & Johnson -- for free. Meanwhile, a shortage of vaccines was on the news in Japan, where I had been just a dozen hours earlier.
I went out into the city to find a costume to wear onstage. The store I'd been buying from for a long time no longer existed, and apparently only sells products online now. On my way, I entered a restaurant. Though in the past the doors had been closed shut with full air conditioning on, not only were the windows and doors now open, but the restaurant had been expanded with tables set out on the sidewalk in front of it, and many people were eating outdoors.
It wasn't the buffet style that a lot of Americans love, and the waitresses wearing masks didn't bring out any menus. You had to scan the QR code placed on the table, and order by looking at the food displayed on your smartphone. This style of service enables customers to avoid touching menus that others have held, and saves the restaurant the trouble of disinfecting menus each time, which is combining the best of both worlds, so to speak.
I also visited the large-scale supermarket "Amazon Fresh," operated by Amazon, where I saw a high-tech "dash cart" being used. The cart has a sensor, and each time you put something in it, it automatically adds the item and allows you to confirm the total price. The cart is recognized at the self-checkout, and you can pay with a credit card. During the process, customers do not come into direct contact with a clerk.
Electronic payments were used at other stores as well. There was almost no cash exchange, and I painfully realized that currency values are becoming mere numbers.
Shared shuttle buses had disappeared, and there was even a concert hall that separated the seats of vaccinated people from those who were not yet inoculated. With thorough avoidance of the "three Cs" of confined spaces, crowded places and close contact as well as utilization of digital technology, the Los Angeles I saw in five days was like a simulation of what the world might be like after the coronavirus pandemic comes to an end.
Japan still requires foreigners returning to the country to take "reasonable" measures to prevent coronavirus infections and I was no exception upon my return to Japan. After my arrival, I took an antigen test, and due to a ban on using public transportation even if the test result is negative, I returned to Nagoya from Haneda in my sister's car. Then, I went through 14 days of self-quarantine.
I was prohibited from attending meetings and contact with non-family members. I was surprised by the difference between the world I saw and heard in the U.S. and the situation in Japan, but now I just hope that the pandemic will end.
(Japanese original by Junko Yagami)
Junko Yagami is a singer-songwriter who was born in the central Japan city of Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture. Yagami debuted as a professional singer on her 20th birthday with a piece titled "Omoide wa Utsukushisugite" (The memories are too beautiful). She has numerous hit songs including "Mizuiro no Ame" (Sky blue rain). She moved to the United States in 1986, and resumed her stage career in Japan in 2012.