Reinventing myself in Tokyo during COVID-19 pandemic

Published August 6, 2021, 12:02 AM

by Bea Tamura


(The author is a Filipina transgender who was managing a bar in the Ginza district in Tokyo until it closed due to the pandemic. This is how she coped and continues to live in an expensive part of Tokyo for more than a year since the lockdown.)

TOKYO, Japan – I opened my iPhone for my usual dose of YouTube viewing just to lull myself to sleep. And there they were, documentaries on the Spanish flu and Black Death in my “you might like list!”

It could have been an omen of things to come as a few days later, the bad news came.

The ship with the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) docked in Yokohama, and Japan became the third country to have the new deadly virus.

My work place in Ginza was among the first to take precautions, closing temporarily for safety.

On April 8, 2020, our then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced a state of emergency.

We remained hopeful that the state of emergency would only last a few months. But the world underestimated and misjudged the situation. In such a short time, the spread of COVID-19 was upgraded from “epidemic” to “pandemic.’

This resulted in the Japanese government asking the people to stay home. Food and entertainment businesses (my industry) would have to close.

My jaws dropped upon hearing the request for early closure of bars. For us night workers, that meant  zero income.  Our establishment opens at 10 p.m. Shortly after, our vice president confirmed my fears with a text message.

I had to find a way to earn as my basic monthly expenses sum up to almost ¥200,000.

Worse, I had just been through a couple of bad financial years, topped by an audit from the taxman. I thought that 2020 would be the year I’d be able to get back on my feet financially.

But this unseen foe called COVID sent this hope off course.

I prayed that the ordeal and nightmare could be gone by May or June. But when government ordered that the Tokyo Olympics be postponed, my optimism was shaken to the core.

I was scared, paranoid, worried, and thinking all day. I know what we were facing is something huge, and it could be uncontrollable.

But rather than be overwhelmed by self-pity, I resolved that I had to forge on.

I had to climb out of this hole.

So I dug deep into my past as a Letran Knight, and a growling Tiger (of the University of Santo Tomas).

Luckily, I had some friends who were doing take-out and delivery due to the inability of the Tokyo residents to go out and eat at their favorite restaurants.

That gave me an idea on what to do while staying home. I could bake and sell it through social media. I had studied cooking French cuisine at the Hiroo, a stylish place in Tokyo.

I cooked, posted my products on my Facebook and Instagram walls, and got orders from my peers and friends, and later from strangers. They even ordered meals that I had not even made before.

I went out to deliver the orders in the Harajuku, Shinjuku, Asakusa, Ueno and Ginza areas which looked like ghost towns.

I even stopped by the statue of Hachiko at Shibuya which now was empty of tourists having their photos taken with the statue of the legendary dog.

In addition to my cooked products, I also found another source of income from selected Japanese ingredients which were being ordered by friends. I piled the boxes of those orders in my apartment and my cat enjoyed climbing them.

Although what I earned wasn’t enough to cover the lost earnings from the club that I managed, the amounts were really helpful, considering that I live in the heart of Tokyo where the cost of living is really prohibitive.

I am still standing – with a lot of help from my family and friends.

Besides, I know that God is holding me up!

I am grateful to the people who still believe that I have the ability to endure all these challenges.

They believe that at the end of this pandemic I will recover and be successful.

God hears us if we continue to trust Him.

This may be an overused term – especially in this time of pandemic – but I still believe that this time will pass.

So I say to the world: Hello! I’m ready, and it’s nice to meet you again. I’m the new and improved Bea.