A year ago, the world fell into a global health and political crisis. The damage has been multiple and is not improving. Especially since the magma of bad socio-political news, are added psychological problems relayed in the background: depressions, anxiety, loneliness, insomnia, feeling of suffocation, lack of horizon … Fortunately, to face it , there are relatives. The partner, the friend, the love, this presence which occupies space and time so well, this company of flesh and bones which deadens falls and dizziness. Well… not for everyone. Love being considered “non-essential” for most countries, hundreds of bi-national families and couples have been unable to touch or reunite for a year. We have collected the story of one of these pairs. His wife is Belgian, he is Japanese. Ryosuke-san, who lives in Tokyo, tells us about the lack, the doubts, their fears and their joys, too.

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@John Doe / Flickr

Mr Japanization: Hello Ryosuke-san, could you first tell us the story of your relationship?

I currently live in Tokyo, but between 2015 and 2017 I temporarily lived in Belgium, in Antwerp. It was there that I met my wife. We then began a long-distance relationship for a little over 4 years. We visited each other when we could. The last time I saw her was in January 2020. When she left, we knew she would come back quickly since she was planning to do an internship in Japan a few months later, from March to June. Except that this internship never took place, canceled due to Covid-19 … This internship was necessary for her to obtain her diploma, so she had to find another one, on site, in Belgium. And luckily for her, she was able to at least validate it.

But after graduating from college in July 2020, the situation in Japan had not really changed and it was still not possible for foreigners to enter the country, except for official Japanese spouses. It was around this time that we decided to get married, remotely. We then began to collect all the necessary papers to formalize our union in October 2020.

At the same time, I remember that my wife was looking for food work in Belgium to make a living by the time she joined me. She was able to find a job in a supermarket in September 2020, but for a limited period of 6 months. It was a countdown: it meant she would be out of work in March 2021 and thatan authorization had to be obtained before that date!

In October, right after our wedding, all we had to do was start the Visa procedure, and it seemed to me that we had enough time until the end of his contract to achieve this. But at the end of January 2021, even though we had almost all the documents in hand, we were again refused. Two days before she went to the embassy to apply for her visa, the Japanese government has tightened the rules for issuance. The state of emergency that was to be lifted on March 7 was extended until March 21 and to receive a Visa, it was now necessary justify an emergency.

His employment contract ending soon and his apartment due to be returned in the same period, we thought that was sufficient as a legitimate reason. Because without a visa, she would have been homeless and unemployed in Belgium. But the government’s response was formal: “no”, because she still had accommodation for the moment, at least until mid-March …

We were really depressed at the time because the future looked bleak. The days passed and the government made no announcements about the follow-up to the plan. On January 7, 2021, we again requested that the government reconsider the issue of visa issuance as she was on the verge of losing her apartment and job. And after several months of hopes and failures, we finally got the green light and received the Visa. She was finally able to come to Japan!

Mr J .: It’s a great victory! Unfortunately she came after a long year of waiting. What was the hardest part?

Yes, even if we could chat or call each other on FaceTime, I think it is necessary to meet your partner physically. Love is something you build with each other. To do so, it is imperative to be able to imagine the future clearly and to be able to project ourselves together in the links we have forged.

The first few months of our long distance relationship were good, but that was because we had a clear plan for the coming months. We also knew when we could meet again and wait until then. But after the story of the Covid which prevented the internship, it was very difficult, because we could not imagine a common future, near or far. At first we thought that the situation would recover after a few months and that we could see each other in the summer of 2020, but the situation has remained the same, over and over again, with no way out, and that has gradually lost us, plunged into everyday vagueness.

Finally, I think the worst aspects of this long period have been the lack of clarity on the future and the impossibility of touching it, de stay with her, when we were depressed and needed comfort more than ever. I also think that if the government had been able to announce each new plan to open the borders, that we had been informed of the progress, things would perhaps have been less difficult to live with.

Instead, during this year, we felt a lot of stress. My wife’s emotions were unstable and she had a lot of pain, all over her body from the anxiety, to the point that she had to see an osteopath. For my part, I had lost my appetite and was irritable, I easily got upset over little things …

Mr J .: What kept you going despite everything and could help other couples or families? And how do you see the rest now that your wife has joined you?

I have the impression that the situation is improving, little by little. I especially hope that more foreigners can enter Japan. There are rumors, but nothing is yet clear. I know there are still a lot of people struggling, couples and families, to finally come together. It is so unacceptable that we have to live apart from his or her beloved. We all deserve to live together, to be reunited, near our loved ones.

The hashtag #LoveIsNotTourism Supported and encouraged me a lot during this difficult and long year so I would love to help people who are in the same situation as us by sharing it. I fully understand how difficult it is for unmarried couples, students or workers, who feel lonely, but do not lose hope !

Families also ask to be able to reunite after a year of imposed distance @ AmandaLancaster / Flickr

Indeed, across the world, families and couples, like that of Ryosuke-san and his wife, try to assert their situation to political representatives via the hashtag. #LoveIsNotTourism. If our Japanese interlocutor was fortunately able to experience a happy ending to his long struggle, despite of course the difficult moments which will remain anchored in his love story, other relationships are still forcibly separated. The virtual movement, which transcribes the distress of very real and strained hearts, is fully aware of the importance of health rules that can protect fragile populations, but challenges the prioritization and arbitrary characterization of what is essential and what is not.

We are social animals. Sociability, and the bonds of affection and closeness that underlie it, are not incidental. They are as essential to us as water or oxygen. Our brain is very sensitive to these interactions and their prevention, to the point that we can suffer serious psychological and psychosomatic damage which sometimes takes forms imperceptible, making them all the more pernicious. If physical health is obviously important, that of our mental balance is just as important. The economic emergency, that is to say professional, is it worth so much more than our health that it allows to override health precautions where love would not be sufficient to justify such risks?

Sentimental sufferings, wounded loves, diminished families, parents estranged from their children, and vice versa, are they only the least evils? The watchword of the movement is, in any case, to recall that loving and reuniting is not akin to sightseeing, but is an imperative which, in the meantime, puts fragmented individuals in suffering. They testify more and more under the hashtag quoted, the occurrences of which you can find just here: #LoveIsNotTourism.

– Interview by Sharon H.

The situation at the borders of Japan via the site of the Japanese Embassy in France. The closure is strict, with rare exceptions including husbands and children of Japanese citizens. The exception still does not apply to unmarried couples or the rest of the family.

The online movement has created several petitions including one dedicated to Japan, requesting permission to enter the territory for couples where one of the partners lives in Japan: 外国人 の 配偶 者 / 婚約 者 等 の 日本 入 国 規 制 緩和 を 求 め ま す! / Allow foreign partners of Japanese citizens to enter Japan.

The site of #LoveIsNotTourism which archives the situations of several countries: https://www.loveisnottourism.org/

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