Greetings from Japan! I had a nice two-month vacation to my home city of San Diego, and have finally made it back home to Japan. Now I’ve got to work from home during my two-week isolation period required by Japanese law to ensure I’m not bringing any COVID into Japan, so I thought I’d write a post about how my home city managed during the covid-19 crisis. Enjoy!
Traveling from Japan to San Diego
My journey began in a very empty Narita Airport in September, with only a scattering of other passengers besides myself to be seen. 90% of the shops were closed, and the fancy re-creation of an Edo Period street that had been built to welcome the millions of international travelers for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics was a ghost town. Seeing so few people preparing to travel abroad left me feeling quite depressed, and I was sure the world was headed for some kind of deep economic slowdown that would take years to recover from.
My qualms were put to rest the minute I touched down in San Diego and visited Fashion Valley, one of the top shopping destinations in the city, to pick up some gadgets from the Apple Store. Of course, the place was full of customers buying iPhones and iPads and Macs, with all customers inside the store wearing masks. I realized that maybe the economy was going to be okay.
How Did San Diego Fare During COVID-19?
I took time to document what Tokyo’s Shinjuku area was like in the depths of the lockdown in May 2020, so I wanted to walk around and observe San Diego and see how things were holding up in the summer and fall of 2021. I live downtown, near the San Diego Comic-Con when the world isn’t experiencing a global pandemic, and there were plenty of places to walk around and get a feel for how things had recovered.
I was pleasantly surprised. Pretty much every bar or restaurant had taken over the parking area in front of the shop to provide for outside seating, the only way to coax customers into eating and drinking there during the crisis. In another smart move, they converted the Gaslamp Quarter into what the Japanese would call a “pedestrian paradise” (歩行者天国), which was great because it let visitors walk around enjoy the shops without cars driving through.
I feared I would find many of my favorite restaurants and bars out of business due to the crisis, but I was pleasantly surprised: I’d say about 85% of the places I’d actually been a customer of in the past made it through after closing for a few months or switching to take-out only orders. I’ve always been a fan of the Old Spaghetti Factory and was happy that they came through okay, as well as good old Breakfast Republic.
Sadly, not all businesses in downtown San Diego made it through COVID-19 safely, and there were a few locations that had gone out of business, including the Hooters we used to visit late at night during Comic-Con.
When I’m home in San Diego I like to take walks around the convention center, which is a good 5 km walk with many beautiful things to see. If you’ve ever attended the
San Diego Comic-Con Comic-Con International — they changed the name so they can force concessions from the city government every few years by pretending they’re going to move to a new city — you’ll have seen these streets when they were filled with 130,000 attendees showing off their costumes. It’s somewhat quieter when there isn’t a convention going on.
Want to see a post about the history of J-List at the San Diego Comic-Con over the years? Read it here.
COVID-19 is the kind of situation where companies that want to survive into the future will find ways of adapting, and it was interesting to see which restaurants were on top of things. Most fast-food restaurants have switched to touch screens or making it easy to order using your phone, which was new to us. I also liked the “touchless” drink machine they had at In-n-Out.
One odd thing about living in Japan and visiting San Diego once a year is that I’m oddly aware of the prices of everything, especially how much prices have risen since I was there last. Normally I notice that things have gotten slightly more expensive by 50 cents of $1, but naturally in the recovery period prices are rising at a faster rate. Japan is a magical place that experienced zero inflation for a quarter-century after the bursting of the Tokyo Asset Bubble in 1991, meaning that the cost of everything has pretty much remained static until a few years ago. That’s not the case in the U.S., naturally, and Mrs. J-List and I felt things to be quite expensive, compared to most parts of Japan. This would be the case if we were coming from Minnesota, too, of course.
(If you think living in a country with zero inflation is great, remember that wages don’t rise, either. This is part of the reason why industry salaries in the anime industry are so frightfully low.)
Looking for some Creative Destruction?
While I was happy to be able to visit most of the restaurants and shops I knew and loved, I was also interested in seeing what “creative destruction” might have occurred, as the crisis forced less-efficient businesses to close which would make room for innovative new businesses. Could there be a silver lining to COVID-19, in the form of interesting new products or services that would improve our lives going forward?
The jury is still out on that one. Nearly every business in the shopping malls I visited had come through seemingly unscathed, with even behemoth chains like Cheesecake Factory keeping all their stores open. The only change I noticed was a dreary and overpriced Italian restaurant near my condo that sold itself to a new owner, who renovated everything, making it a much brighter and more cheerful place to eat or drink. I hope the new owner will find success.
Based on the high number of visitors to the city who were zipping around on those battery-powered scooters, I’d say San Diego should continue to rebound economically, which makes me happy.
What Restrictions are Places on International Travel to Japan?
Now I have returned to Japan, where I had to take a PCR test and install various apps on my phone in order to be admitted. The app randomly calls me to ensure I’m at the location I said I’d be at, and not out drinking in seedy bars or anything. I plan to spend my 14-day solitary period catching up on anime and playing video games, which is what I’d be doing anyway.
Thanks for reading this post about how San Diego made it through the COVID-19 crisis. Got any questions or comments? Post them below, or on Twitter!
J-List has great news for everyone: we’ve started the 2021-2022 Fukubukuro season, and we’ve got great grab bags (boxes, actually) filled with delightful anime figures and toys, as well as our trademark “naughty” products. Browse our new Fukubukuro lucky boxes here!