Pandemic travel: 2

Wow, things sure are quiet…

Before it was clear we were headed for a pandemic, I booked a “treat yourself” trip to Japan. After a great first year at Slack, I wanted a nice non-work trip to really relax and refresh before going back into 2020 with a renewed sense of vigor. Previously, I wrote about packing and my initial few days in Koenji in western Tokyo.

Off to Kyoto

Tokyo station and the Tokaido Shinkansen were both relatively empty, which was very odd to experience. If you’ve ever been to Japan, there’s a near-constant mass of people traveling via train stations, so I was both sad and glad to see folks taking none traveling seriously. I picked up an ekiben of box sushi and a chuhai, then headed to the old capital city for one night at BNA Alter Hotel, the Kyoto cousin of Koenji’s BNA.

In general, Kyoto was also much quieter, but had a slightly upbeat vibe and a bit more foot traffic than I saw in Tokyo. I think the smaller number of COVID cases meant Kyoto kept moving.

I found some amazing yakitori for dinner and drank a few glasses of fancy whiskey later on back at my hotel. I watched Contagion before drifting off to sleep, and it unfortunately felt prescient. I hope we have more Matt Damons and less Gwyneth Paltrows in our current pandemic.

Day two meant a solo breakfast at the hotel. There were only two of us there in the entire 31 room place. Wild.

I went on a walk later, to get some air, and come coffee at Dongree, where I also sat alone. On the way to the train station I got ramen at an empty shop run by two older people who were very happy to have me. One downside of this spot—they didn’t have hand soap in the restroom. Fortunately, I was carrying alcohol wipes, but I made a note to find alcohol spray at the next conbini I visited.


The train ride to Osaka was a little nerve-wracking. The small train got much more crowded than any other train I’d been on, and the asshole youth who sat next to me picked his nose under his mask and coughed into his mask for a few stops. The older woman sitting near us kept giving him the stink eye. Seriously, fuck that guy.

I made it to my hotel a little early, and sat in the lobby before check-in. In a stark contrast to my huge room in Kyoto, the Nest hotel is a very tiny business hotel. I wasn’t really clear on the amenities when I booked it, but it’s basically a room large enough for a bed and a small chair. I spent most of the first night in my room, with a short excursion to get udon nearby. Later I watched Casino Royale, and had a canned highball. Truly high class, eh?

Every morning so far has meant catching up on the news around the world, practicing kanji, and trying to keep a little calm. I definitely felt more anxious in Osaka than in Koenji or Kyoto. Everyone outside seems much more blasé than other parts of Japan I’ve been to on this trip, despite the higher infection rate here.

knocks on wood I hope this apparent nonchalance is fully warranted, and folks here will stay healthy.

I got Vietnamese food in an empty restaurant with my friends Laurie and Stephan, and then got coffee at Haiku, a local spot I love. Later I took a leisurely walk, followed by a little chuhai purchasing at the Lawson. Having a beer in my hotel room isn’t as great as a nice whiskey out, but I figured it’s better safe than sorry.

Day two meant a long walk after buying some onigiri at the Lawson. Crowds were sparse, but a surprising number of people were still walking around and playing baseball in the park. I’d just read about the shutdown in San Francisco, and Osaka felt like the opposite. I got more coffee at Haiku, and made sure to buy extra pourover bags to-go so I would have backup coffee for my time in Onomichi.

I spent the afternoon back at my hotel, watching sim-racing championships and napping. Later I got karaage and more chuhai at Johnny’s, then walked back under the subway line, and listened to a podcast. I felt lucky in a way that I could still experience wandering around Osaka during this pandemic, but also scared for what lies ahead for my friends and our homes.

Lawsons came through with another chuhai for my tv-filled evening. First up was the finale of Avenue 5, and then Quantum of Solace. Uncomplicated action movies are a nice escape, I think.

I set my alarm for a video call with my friend Haley, then headed to bed.

read part 1 or part 3