In Search of Human Connections in Social Distancing

Online drinking party

When I wake up in the morning, one message keeps coming into my email box. “Zoom Nomi (Drinking party on Zoom) will be tomorrow.  Please make sure that your PC has the Zoom platform!” On the day of the Zoom Nomi, there were over 30 people on the screen. I saw that each participant held a glass of beer or wine in his/her hand. The event organizer said, “Thank you for joining. Let’s start Zoom Nomi with Kanpai (Cheers)!” The participants held up their drinks high in front of their PCs, taking part in the toast. Then, we started talking and laughing without any interruption as if Covid-19 cannot stop the flood of our emotions.

How to Socialize While Keeping “Social Distancing”?

Covid-19 pandemic impacts our lives very much. One of them is our socialization. We try to keep social distancing to prevent the spread of the virus. But we cannot convince ourselves to avoid interactions with others. Meeting people in person is critical to relationship building in Japan. So, people are trying to find a way to keep connected with people without- or at least minimum human-connection while maintaining physical distancing from people outside the home.

Go Online for Nomikai

One of the quick solutions for socializing without face-to-face interactions is meeting people online. Now, online drinking parties are flourishing. Instead of Izakaya (Japanese bars) or restaurants, online platforms such as Zoom and LINE facilitate their get-togethers in front of PC screens. You can find online drinking parties every day among groups ranging from small friendship circles to 100-strong drinking parties.

Besides social distancing, the Online Nomikai offers added values, which offline drinking parties do not. The participants do not have to worry about missing trains, selecting favorite drinks and foods, and going to bed straight after the parties. People are finding that it is not too bad to drink with others over the PC screens.

Bowing in Micro-Moments

Another tactic that people use for communication without direct interactions is body language. For example, an elderly woman bows without saying any words when they meet a neighbor on the road. People also bow to store clerks at cashers to express “thank you” without any words. The store clerks also bow to their customers as if saying, “you are welcome.”

Bowing helps to convey a greeting or expression of thanks when the face is covered by a mask (a situation which is regular for many Japanese, and even perennial for some). Japanese customarily bow when meeting people, but it facilitates communication with people without speaking or showing facial expressions.

Connecting People via Hand-Made Masks

Items around us also help to convey our feelings. Due to the shortage of disposable masks at shops, people have started making masks at home to give them as gifts to the health-conscious or the needy. For example, schoolgirls make handmade masks and donated them to nursing homes. Mothers make masks with available clothes for their kids. They put on these masks to prevent infection and to show their appreciation of the people who made them.

handmade mask

While the primary function of masks is to prevent the spread of Covid-19, They enable an emotional connection between maker and wearer. The shortage of disposable masks has been resolved in many shops recently, thanks to ramped up production and imports from other countries. But people keep wearing hand-made masks.

Face-to-face interactions are indispensable though

Those mentioned above are temporary solutions to the need to connect, and it doesn’t seem they’ll ever adequately replace face to face interactions. People who have attended Online Nomikai still miss the Izakaya because the atmosphere, foods, and drinks facilitate close connection. People who wear handmade masks miss direct interactions with the makers. We miss conversations with neighbors and store clerks for sure.

Even after the state of emergency is lifted, social interactions will need to be reduced to prevent the spread of Covid-19. We need to continue to come up with creative solutions for socializing without suppressing direct human interactions.