Japan

Living with coronavirus in a Japanese share house

Firsthand account reveals there are pros and cons to catching the virus in a communal living environment.

Rents can be expensive for people wanting to live in the middle of a big metropolis like Tokyo. That’s why a lot of young people decide to move into “share houses“, which offer private, single-room accommodations with shared facilities at much more reasonable prices.

Strangers under one roof enjoying the perks of communal living sounds like the perfect setting for a hip TV drama, but it’s not always as great as it may seem. Especially now with the pandemic, it’s not an ideal time to be living with a group of strangers, and we spoke to one 30-year-old man currently living at a share house in Tokyo who had to deal with the worst-case scenario, when someone in his building caught, and spread the virus.

Thankfully, there were only two other men living in the share house at the time, so it wasn’t a large cluster, and while the challenges they faced proved to be difficult, they actually found there were silver linings to their situation as well.

Let’s take a look at his account below.

First of all, please tell us about your share house history.

“It’s a little confusing, but before the pandemic, I lived in a share house with about 60 people. However, when the company I work for bought an office and a share house, myself and two men from work started living at the share house, in Tokyo’s Shinagawa Ward.”

I see.

“Because it’s both an office and a share house, there are two other employees who come and go in addition to the three of us. All up, including my previous accommodation, I’ve been living in share houses for about two-and-a-half years.”

Were you worried when the coronavirus started spreading in Tokyo?

“Yes, I was. But everyone was very careful. As much as possible, we tried not to share the facilities at the same time as each other, and we often worked in our separate rooms without going to the office. Because we knew it would spread if one of us got it.”

I see.

“Because we lived with a sense of caution, we managed to make it through the first year without getting infected. But…in August 2021 one of my housemates tested positive for coronavirus.”

Really?

“He had been vaccinated once, but that didn’t matter. It spread fast from there. The other four of us, myself and the employees who went in and out, tested positive for coronavirus. Everyone at the share house had it all at the same time. It became a corona house (laughs).”

Wow. I guess if you don’t laugh about it, you’d cry.

“Yeah. At that time, the health centre was flat out, so there was no contact tracing of close contacts by the Ward. We did all the PCR tests ourselves, but I didn’t have many symptoms.”

That was fortunate. What do you think the reason was for the cluster, despite the fact that you’d all done so well to avoid getting infected for such a long time?

“Well, one reason may have been because we became relaxed. I started going out a little bit… I think it’s true to say that I became complacent in the second year.”

I see. I think there’s a tendency for that to happen, even outside of shared housing. Because the number of cases has been increasing regardless of the state of emergency.

“That may be so. Another factor is the power of the Delta strain. As I mentioned earlier, it wasn’t too severe for me, but the other two had a high fever in the 39-degree-Celsius range for about 10 days. I was really sorry to see it because they couldn’t find a doctor that would accept them and they couldn’t be hospitalised.”

Well, did you stay in the share house the whole time?

“Yes. Those of us who were a bit better than the two with the high fevers helped to look after them. Well, even though I say I was better, I had a 38-degree fever (laughs).”

I see. But it might have been good that you were sharing, given that some people have died as a result of having to deal with the infection at home alone.

“That’s right. It may have been a far more encouraging environment than being alone.”

One last question. What do you think of share house living in light of your experience with that cluster?

“I personally like share houses. I think there are many benefits to being able to live on the cheap by sharing things like home appliances. But above all, it’s nice to have someone around. When you order pizza, or watch the Olympics, it’s like you have another family. And there’s a sense of security when something happens, not just with the pandemic, but in everyday situations too.”

I see. Thank you very much.

After listening to this firsthand account of living with the coronavirus in a share house, we became more acutely aware of just how infectious the Delta strain is. Once one person in the building came down with the virus, it wasn’t long before others sharing the same space became infected as well.

It just goes to show that we still can’t let our guards down when it comes to precautionary measures like social distancing, especially when the health system in Tokyo is so strained that a lot of people are now having to deal with their symptoms at home alone.

So whether you’re living on your own or with your partner, family, or flatmates, don’t forget to get vaccinated, keep taking precautions, and stay safe! Especially if you’re in an area like Tokyo, which is still under a state of emergency until the end of this month.

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