The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

Life takes unexpected turns. Last September, while I was walking the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trails in Wakayama Prefecture, I received a text message from my son. He told me that he had decided to go to London for study abroad, part of his requirements as a student at Gakushuin University. I thought it sounded like a great idea. Little did I know it would end with the two of us under 14-day quarantine.

His time in London had been going well and I was excited to hear about his experiences, which took me back to my first extended stay abroad in 1991, when I studied at Moscow State Conservatory. But when news of Covid-19 spreading in the UK began to break, and with a slow response that has become a theme around the world, excitement turned to worry.

FLYING HOME
My son was contacted by the Japanese government through the university about returning, and on March 23 he arrived at Heathrow Airport for a flight that would stop over in Abu Dhabi—the return leg of his original roundtrip ticket. But just before boarding, the airline barred passengers who did not live in the United Arab Emirates.

Stranded, he slept on a bench in Heathrow—imagine how I felt about that, with the poten­tial of Covid-19 exposure. We were finally able to find another flight on Japan Airlines, but at a price of ¥182,000 for an economy seat. Getting him home right away was our top priority though, and he flew out 26 hours later than planned.

TO HANEDA AND BACK
What happened next really surprised me. We had been told that he would need to be picked up by car, driven directly home, and remain there for 14 days. That made sense.

What did not, however, is that he wasn’t tested on arrival. At that time, they were only testing passengers from a handful of countries, and the UK—despite my son’s departure coming at the same time Prime Minister Boris Johnson was on television announcing the lockdown of London—was not one of them. So, I drove the long trip from Haneda to my house, way out in the hills of Kanagawa, knowing that we were starting two weeks of uncertainty.

FINE SO FAR
As I write this, we have just completed the 14-day quarantine. We are both fine. No fever emerged for either of us, and the slight throat and cough issues that I have are almost certainly due to pollen (my house is bordered by a forest).

Despite our successful run through quarantine,  I remain nervous—and the whole experience has highlighted how quickly life can be turned upside down. It also echoes the chaos in which my first stay in Moscow ended, with Gorbachev’s house arrest and the Soviet Coup of August 1991. These memories stay with us and help us grow.

I do hope that the final outcome of this pan­demic finds us both—and all of you—safe, healthy, and in a better place.

Christopher Bryan Jones is Editor-in-Chief of The ACCJ Journal. Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, he has lived in Japan since 1997.