Looking Back on Two Very Different Versions of the Pandemic

Two opposite experiences: 7 months in Japan, 5 months in France.

Mathias Barra
6 min readMar 25, 2021


Photo by Jérémy Stenuit on Unsplash

Like most of us, I can clearly remember how my life changed when Covid-19 started hitting us. Unfortunately for me, however, it started early than most of the world.

While the rest of the world was still fine and looking at how China was handling the virus, it arrived very close to where I lived: in Yokohama, Japan.

At the time, my office was located a 7 kilometers away from where the now-infamous Diamond Princess ferry was moored. Having lived in China in the past and talked with friends who still lived there, I thought I realized the dangers this virus could bring. I was afraid and wanted to leave Japan as quickly as possible.

I figured it’d be safer to go back to my home country, France, far away from that virus. Unfortunately, I couldn’t. While I could work from home for my job, I still needed to work in the Japanese timezone and that meant working from 2 or 3 am in France. A schedule I could keep only for up to a month. I was also supposed to host two friends from France in my flat, which I couldn’t do if I weren’t there.

I decided to stay, worrying, and tried to ignore the risks I was facing by staying close to where the virus was.

Living in an Organized Country Without Rules

Japan is a very well-organized country. It takes time to learn all the underlying rules of the country, but it’s easy to live there once it’s done. As I had already lived in Japan for 4 years and spoke the language well, I was able to live my life as well as I would in my native country.

Yet, when the coronavirus arrived, I saw a reaction I wasn’t expecting: an absence of rules. For a country based on collectivism, rules are everything. If you don’t know what society expects of you, you end up freezing in place, wondering about all the possibilities.

I saw the virus spread around the world. I remember talking to my parents over Skype and hearing about the virus arriving there, the lockdowns starting to take place in Spain and Italy, and later France as well. I remember the US government starting to take it…



Mathias Barra

French polyglot speaking 6 languages. Writer. Helping you learn languages. Get my new ebook → https://linktr.ee/MathiasBarra