A little luck goes a long way
The author is a Tokyo correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
This might be the year that we need luck more than ever, but the “lucky bags” are gone. The bags that are stacked up in front of Japanese department stores and shops in the New Year — called fukubukuro — was one of my favorite scenes. You buy a bag without knowing what’s inside and tell your fortune by what you get.
Famous department stores would offer lucky bags that contained goods valued far higher than the price, so people used to stand in line for hours to buy them. Watching the people dashing in as soon as the store opens and fighting to get a lucky bag, I had an eerie sense of relief that Japanese people, who usually seem to conceal their desires, are only human.
This year, the lucky bags are gone, of course because of Covid-19. To prevent people from gathering, most stores do not offer lucky bags or replace them with online offerings. I went to a department store in the New Year, and there were more people than expected. But the old energy could not be found.
Meanwhile, there are some people who are suddenly standing at the boundary of life. St. Ignacio Church in Chiyoda, Tokyo, set up a consultation center for those who lost a job or housing or are facing poverty due to Covid-19. The Coronavirus Disaster Emergency Action, run by 40 civic groups in Japan, was established the center. Between 12 p.m. and 4 p.m. on Sunday, 300 people visited the center.
A man who seemed to be in his 30s sought legal advice. He lost his job and was evicted as he could not pay rent. He was living in a shelter run by Tokyo province. After the consultation, the lawyer explained the situation to me. In the cafeteria, volunteers offered bagged meals, snacks and drinks to those in need. The man who came for consulting left the church with a “lucky bag” full of food, and he seemed a bit more comfortable.
It is too embarrassing to talk about “hopes” and “heartache.” My own future isn’t looking great and I cannot afford to care of others. But there are still people who save those on the verge of falling. A volunteer said, “Many of the visitors lived ordinary lives before Covid-19. I realized how weak the foundations of our lives have become.”
I felt sorry to go home empty-handed, so I bought a random bread lucky bag from a bakery. Of course, the bag was full of delicious bread, and none was inedible. My arbitrary interpretation is that this year, only things I can handle will happen.