We Were Supposed to be Leaving for Japan Today

March 02, 2020

The idea to visit Japan first came to mind during a layover. It was a short layover, but something about flying into Japan felt so right. The views flying into Narita were far greener and beautiful than I expected. The sky was moody, with the sun shining through the clouds. Like a magnet, I’m drawn to moody skies.

A couple of months later, my brother said Japan was the one place he wanted to visit. Tim agreed, Japan was high on his bucket list. So, it was decided, we were heading to Japan. We spent months doing research. I did my usual trip planning steps, researched hundreds of places to stay and restaurants, and started booking tea ceremonies and whiskey tastings. We were all getting excited and looking forward to the trip.

And then, Coronavirus hit Japan. It started slow and we didn’t think much about it. Not that we don’t take the virus seriously, it’s very serious. But at the time, it had just hit Japan. We didn’t think it would multiply as quickly as it did. Coronavirus was just beginning to make its mark on the map. So we continued as planned. We put the final touches on the trip and buying last-minute travel-sized items. But now our final touches also included spending hours a day researching the virus, the spread in Japan, and the impact it was making on the country.

The numbers escalated the week before we were supposed to leave. And not just in Japan, but around the world. The virus began to move quickly through Europe, much faster than I think most expected. This is when I began getting concerned. I wasn’t concerned about us getting sick, but selfishly I was worried about the impact this would make on our trip. I was worried things would be closed, the mood of the people would be different, and that we would spend our mornings checking the news with worry to make sure it was ok to head out for the day. We were also concerned that our flights would end up getting canceled and we wouldn’t be able to make it home. Unselfishly, I was concerned that we would end up being carriers of the virus and bring it home with us. I didn’t want us to be the cause for it spreading more.

And then I got an email that started the snowball; our Japanese whiskey experience was being canceled. Although Japan was still, and is still, at a level two risk-assessment for travelers with the CDC, major tourist attractions began closing. We slowly watched each item on our itinerary announce their temporary closure. We went through our itinerary and at least one item a day was closed. We could have worked with it and still had an amazing time, but some of the things that closed were reasons we wanted to go to Japan in the first place. We wanted to visit Hiroshima, the Pokemon store, the famous fish markets, and experience the spring festivals like a local.

When I called our airlines to get information on what to do if we needed to cancel, I was advised that they were allowing full refunds on voluntary cancelations due to Coronavirus. It was the last sign we needed. It was time to cancel our trip. When I should have been packing my bag, I spent hours on hold getting everything canceled. For the most part, everyone has been understanding and thankful for our promise to return next year. I’ve encountered kindness from across the ocean, giving me hope and excitement for when we go next year. But I’ll be honest, it hasn’t been easy to swallow. I was so excited to travel with my brother, the trip meant a lot to me. Tim and I were looking forward to being out of the country again and immersed in a new culture.

As disappointed as I am, I’m thankful for our health, the kindness of strangers, and the lessons learned along the way. We hope that everyone makes travel decisions based on facts and not fears and still keep their wandering spirit. Take precautions when necessary, do your research, and stay healthy. And Japan...we'll see you next year! We can hardly wait.