Expat in Korea · My Makes · Travel

Thoughts on masks + Japan travel

The Covid era is slowly drawing to a close in the Far East (but its not over, yet). Almost two weeks ago, South Korea lifted its indoor mask mandate in most public places. That includes shops, restaurants, and gyms, but masks on public transportation are still required. Korea has been one of the last holdouts for required masking in the world.

Some people are skeptical about the lift, but many welcome the change. In any case, the majority in Korea still wear masks at least some of the time, and I suspect will continue to do so when they feel at risk. Nevertheless, each step taken to open the country and reduce requirements feels like a collective sigh.

Masking in Korea was a cultural norm even before the pandemic. It’s not a bad idea in a country with a dense population. People have commonly chosen to wear masks in the Spring, when the air is heavy with pollen, as well as a preventative measure for the flu season. I’m fairly sure that masks have prevented me not only from contracting Covid, but other bugs, too. After not masking in Hanoi for a week, I picked up my first head cold in years.

I’m about to head to Japan, a country that is arguably even more conservative when it comes to Covid prevention. I have not been to Japan since just before Covid hit, in February 2020, when the Diamond Princess superspreader event happened. For the almost three years that Covid raged, the country shut down to international tourism. Also, Japan never instituted official mask mandates; ingrained cultural norms and government guidelines were enough for citizens to readily adopt mask-wearing. Many people in Japan are still cautious, as the country recently opened back up to tourists, testing for Chinese travelers has been suspended, and restrictions have loosened in stadiums and sports venues.

I’m not sure what the vibe will be like when I enter Japan this time. It will be interesting to compare my trips to Tokyo that bookend the pandemic. This latest trip will involve a lot of the same activities as the previous one – eating, shopping, strolling around the sights, cultural enrichment activities, picture taking, and a lot of to-and-fro on public transport, just with face-coverings most of the time.

I’m a paper fanatic, and I enjoy doing origami, so will be visiting my favorite Tokyo paper haunts and adding some new ones that I found out about, including Taro’s Origami Studio that just last week opened a shop in Asakusa, mere steps from my hotel. I’ll make a beeline to that one as soon as I drop my bags at the door. (For those stateside, Taro has a shop in Brooklyn, N.Y., too.) By the middle of next week, I will post a detailed checklist of at least ten fabulous places to buy origami paper (and other art supplies) in Tokyo.

I’ll leave you with a few images of my paper fiddlings today and yesterday. I tried a few unconventional crane models from a Kazuo Kobayashi book. You can read more about him, and his hub, Origami Kaikan, in a previous post. It has been three years since the last visit, so stay tuned for an update.

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