Silver Linings

Space, glorious space

Six-ish years ago, my husband and I packed up our life in Tokyo and moved an hour down the coast to the city of Kamakura. We had planned to open a cafe, but after having trouble securing a house conducive to the food-service business, we snapped up a house by the beach that had been a Japanese-Western fusion inn, and became innkeepers.

It has been a wild ride.

Being an innkeeper can be quite a bit of fun, incredibly interesting, and wonderfully educational. It lets you make connections with all sorts of people from all sorts of countries. We’ve had guests from every continent but Antarctica (natch), and I’ve had so many wonderful conversations.

Like any job, though, it can also be so very frustrating and annoying. The big difference, of course, is that the frustrations (in the form of poorly behaved guests, as few and far between as they may be) are living in your house and have access to you 24/7 for the duration of their stay.

And then they get to rate you.

But this year—this year was going to be swell, regardless of the ratio of good to bad guests. With the Olympics in Tokyo, and the sailing and windsurfing events starting at a harbour just 5km away—and set to go right by our beach—we were pretty much guaranteed a financially amazing year.

It was going to make all the stolen towels, sneaky extra guests, boogers wiped on the wall and pee hidden in the mattresses worthwhile. (Note: Very few guests do these things, but they really stick with you when it happens.)

We all know what happened next.

Now, I’ve been for the postponement/cancellation of the games since probably February, despite the financial gains the Olympics was supposed to bring us. It has been agonizing watching people (you know who you are!!) stubbornly insist that the games will go on, at the expense of the health of the residents of Japan, many of whom feel that the government played down COVID-19 to protect certain leaders’ vanity legacy projects. As far as I’m concerned, health should always come first: How can a country thrive if its healthcare system is in shambles and its people are dropping like flies?

Back to the inn—as a small guesthouse-like lodging, since the new year, we have been feeling the effects of the pandemic.

In January and February, the majority of our guests are Chinese travelling over the Lunar New Year holidays. Obviously, reservations that had already been made were cancelled, and last-minute reservations that we would normally expect to come in, never came. We had three pairs of (amazing) guests for a total of three nights—Russia, Singapore and the USA.

In March, we generally have lots of Japanese families travelling over the spring holidays, and it’s the beginning of our European and North American guest season. Not so this year. In March, we had one group of guests from Japan. That’s it.

April is usually Europeans galore. This year, with travel restrictions, nothing.

To be honest, I have zero problems with this. The last thing I want right now is travellers, domestic or international, going in and out of my house.

Financially though? Ouch.

What was supposed to be a triumphant year has become an absolutely painful one. We are extraordinarily lucky to have other income streams, otherwise, we would be flat-out broke already. But, this is one of our major streams, so even though we’re not 100-percent toast without it, it hurts something fierce.

But still—no guests means more safety, which means less health-related anxiety.

Now for the silver lining: space, beautiful space!

As we live in our inn, we have much more space than your average Japanese family living in a city. It doesn’t feel that way when we have guests, as most of the space is dedicated to them, but without them, it feels huge.

We have a decent-sized garden/yard, extra rooms, and a big dining/living room. It’s not much fun to clean, but it provides sweet, sweet sanity when I need to get away from my family, and when they need to get away from me. (←Probably happens more than I would like to admit.)

The other lucky part? Since the inn is our main job, my husband is home, too. I admit that this doesn’t always feel like a good thing, but when it comes down to it, it is extra support for the kids and me. I can escape if I need to, get out for a walk or a run, retreat to my room to work, and not feel the pressure to make every single meal. And the kids have another adult to turn to when Mummy just.can’t.

Our financial situation is not unique right now. So many people are hurting like us, and many are hurting so much more than we are. This I understand, and I am so very grateful for my freelance writing and editing work, and for the apartments that my husband’s family owns which are getting us through this.

I’m so grateful that our usual job comes with a big home and yard that are making this tough time so much easier for my family. I realize, again, my incredible privilege. These things that I take for granted—that I complain about even—make me so lucky.

I was aware that I was privileged before, but this pandemic is really bringing home just how privileged. And again, I’m left wondering what to do with all of it.

Published by helenkamakura

Helen is a Canadian writer and innkeeper based in Kamakura, Japan, where she lives with her Japanese husband and two children. If money became obsolete, she would happily accept peaches, fresh peas, and sun-warmed cherry tomatoes in exchange for her labour.

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