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J-TOWN BEAT: What Matters When the World Goes Crazy

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By GWEN MURANAKA

Sunday. Was that less than a week ago? Eric and I went to eat dim sum and we noticed, sadly, that the normally bustling restaurant was about 60 percent of its normal capacity.

The women with the large metal carts laden with har gow and shu mai dumplings stood and waited for patrons. Normally they would be whirring around, clanging plates onto tables. It felt like our small gesture of solidarity to be there, supporting beleaguered Chinese restaurants that have seen their business plummet due to the coronavirus.

But in just the last few days, everything has changed, once again.

The ripple effect of the spread of the COVID-19 virus has been frightening in its speed, which only seems to be accelerating. I think the moment when the Utah Jazz and OKC Thunder basketball teams both left the court on Tuesday night and the crowd filed out was when it crystalized.

A player had tested positive for coronavirus and the NBA decided to suspend games indefinitely. NCAA, NHL and CIF have all followed suit and even Disneyland will be closed for at least the next two weeks, following their counterparts in Shanghai, Hong Kong and Tokyo. All LAUSD schools will be closed from Monday. This March has been mad, but there will be no March Madness.

Sport is often a refuge from reality. For those few hours we cheer and shout for our teams. Athletes prove themselves with their sweat, skill and cunning on the field of play. Their athleticism inspires us and lets us forget our own problems for a little while.

In the Japanese American community we are inspired by heroes like Wat Misaka, Katelyn Ohashi, Jamie Hagiya, Kristi Yamaguchi and Corey Nakatani. Terasaki Budokan is a testament to the importance of sports as a way to bring the community together.

But now all sport has been cancelled. Social distancing and hand-washing are the new norm. I think LeBron James said it best when he tweeted, “What we really need to cancel is 2020.”

Here at The Rafu we have watched the steady trickle turn into a flood of postponements and cancellations of events in the community. I wonder how to produce a newspaper when everything that we would normally cover shuts down.

A newspaper can play an important role of informing and uniting a community. This is true in good times, but especially true in bad ones. Especially for Japanese nationals, it’s not enough to read about events in Japan; it’s important to know what local officials are doing and telling the community, so they can best be prepared.

L.A. County Department of Public Health department has produced information on dealing with COVID-19 in many languages, including Japanese, and its vital to get the information out to the public. Answers to frequently asked questions are accessible at www.publichealth.lacounty.gov/media/Coronavirus/ (English) and /www.publichealth.lacounty.gov/media/Coronavirus/FAQ-Japanese.pdf .

This is where newspapers and other sources of information can play a leading role.

Social distancing can lead to social isolation, and that’s something a newspaper can also help alleviate, particularly for seniors who are not on the Internet.

I am proud of our staff here, small and underpaid, but each member is very committed to reporting on events of importance to the Japanese and Japanese American communities. We could sure use some help, whether writing, photography or updating our ancient computers.

So my questions are: How are people feeling? How is each organization responding and dealing with this crisis and taking care of their members? What can we do to bolster and support one another? Those are things we’d like to hear in the coming weeks and months. I’d welcome comments.

Japan has always been remarkable at collective action geared towards the common good. Most well known might be those hearty fans of the Japan national soccer team who, win or lose, bring trash bags and clean up the stadium after the games. Just nine years ago in the worst of the tsunami and earthquake disasters that struck the Tohoku region, Japanese were seen pitching in and helping one another.

I don’t think it’s uniquely Japanese. Despite our divisive politics here in the U.S., I’m always heartened by the simple kindness of neighbors looking out for one another, and making sure everyone is taken care of. In Gardena on the Nextdoor app, one neighbor has started a thread to reach out and take care of the needs of seniors and others who need help.

We are part of a collaborative effort now, to do whatever is possible to slow the spread of the disease and to help one another get through this crisis. In the smallest of acts, each of us as individuals and as a community can make a difference.

And just for a little levity, below is a cartoon I did back during the swine flu epidemic of 2009. Japan and Asia have been through these epidemics quite a few times, but nothing like this one. Collective action can lead to positive results and reduce the number infected.

Follow the advice of medical authorities, practice social distancing … wash your hands, stay safe, take care of one another.

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Gwen Muranaka, senior editor of The Rafu Shimpo, can be contacted at [email protected] Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

 

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