The Quarantine

In January, 2022, during the waning days of the quarantine pandemic (yes, a pandemic of quarantines), I travelled to Japan where strict quarantine protocols were still in effect; upon entering Japan I would be sequestered for three days in a government managed hotel. While I could have delayed the trip until the quarantine was lifted, it seemed fun to experience a quarantine.

Given a choice between three days of quarantine and three days of leisure, clearly I’d choose leisure. However, the quarantine didn’t seem it would be much of a problem and as 90% of any experience is experiencing oneself, the quarantine like most things would be fun for me. Moreover, the stories my memory could weave out of the quarantine experience would make it fun regardless of what it was at the time.

After a 14 hour flight from New York City to Tokyo, I was among a thousand or so people held at Tokyo airport for processing. We were held captive for 15 hours by dozens of police officers and people running around in hazmat suits. Everyone was in operating room mode, all masked up. It felt otherworldly, even in Japan which is already otherworldly. Food rations were limited to the inedible that no dietician would ever recommend; hot dogs, bread, sugary fruit juices. As we were closely packed together, people slept on chairs and floor, a veritable petri dish where a single Covid infected individual could easily spread the virus. At some point, people’s street clothes looked like pajamas needing a wash; people became restive. Finally, after extensive testing of secretions from nose to spit and waiting on innumerable lines with paperwork in hand, we were taken to a government hotel and placed in solitary confinement. My room was luxurious from the perspective of anyone living before 1850 or currently in a refugee camp, but otherwise basic. Fortunately, there was a big clock in the room, allowing me to identify breakfast, lunch and dinner as each meal was essentially the same thing, whatever the thing was. I did have the freedom to smoke cigars in the room; though the hotel stopped offering coffee three years back and what’s a cigar without a coffee! Entertainment was via cell phone and emails; fun connecting with others who pitied my plight which truly wasn’t bad. Ultimately, I’d recommend a quarantine as a good remedy for jetlag.

After the quarantine, I returned to the everyday world and typical high points of a trip to Japan; restaurants, onsens, meetings with colorful people, viewing gardens and landscapes and visiting shrines. Today, I hold little memory of those moments, but the odd and peaceful time in quarantine is with me forever. If we can’t enjoy a quarantine in a civilized country, how can we enjoy most things.