Military spouses in Japan turn to cooking, screaming their way through round of lockdowns

Image and Video by Emma Jackson
Image and Video by Emma Jackson

Military spouses in Japan turn to cooking, screaming their way through round of lockdowns

by Erica Earl
Stars and Stripes

Now that we are in year three of facing changing regulations around travel restrictions and quarantine, you would think we would all be lockdown professionals by now.

However, this latest round of pandemic restrictions has been much more difficult. Whether it had to do with a sense of freedom in the post-vaccine glory days, being tantalizingly close to the promise of this all being over or watching as life seemed to have returned to normal stateside, returning to staying at home was a challenge. And even now that some installations are released from the restrictions, that permanence is never promised.

On top of that, there is immense societal pressure to be productive with any perceived amount of “free time.” Although, some can argue that waiting around wondering if we will ever reach a point of pre-pandemic normalcy feels very “free” at all.

Here’s how some military community members in Japan, despite the pressure, have coped and as normal human beings, have survived without making a scientific breakthrough, writing the next great novel, or completely changing their bodies.

Screaming into the void

Emma Jackson recently joined her friend Becca Kofonow and three other moms on Yokosuka Naval Base to stand by the seawall and just scream.

The idea of screaming into the void to let out their frustrations came from satirical joke invitations people worldwide were sending others to meet in fields or parks to do the same. But, as the pandemic continued, the once-satirical scenario transcended into real life.

“We primary caregivers are doing so much,” Jackson said. “It’s a small way to blow off steam and laugh. We need it.”

The bunch faced toward the ocean and screamed as loudly as they could, something that felt so primal, feral and wild, but also like a release.

“My son, who is three, had the funniest grin on his face afterward like we were crazy and awesome,” Jackson said.

Jackson and Kofonow are already planning on hosting more scream sessions and are considering making it a recurring event on base.

A mural-culous thing

  Photo by Allie Wylie


Allie Wylie, a spouse on Yokota Air Base, said she started painting the mural in her kitchen “out of boredom and chasing serotonin.” The cottage core design of flowers and mushrooms was inspired by a project she saw on TikTok, a social media platform for sharing videos.

Wylie, who had never painted a mural before, said she dug up her paints and went for it.

“The last two years have taught me that if I’m going to be spending a lot of time in a place, I really need to own the space and love it as much as possible,” she said.

The mural was also a way for Wylie to get some introspective alone time while caring for her home, kids, and husband as he recovered from the coronavirus.

“It’s been a ride that I never want to be on again,” she said.

As she shared a bedroom with her teenage child and tried to nurture her sick husband through a closed door, the painting offered a whimsical escape into the world of ivy and gardens she was creating.

She never told her husband about the project as she was painting it. So, as her husband prepares to emerge from quarantine, Wylie said she is hoping he will be pleasantly surprised. And she hopes they can enjoy the splash of art together as they return to normal family routines—or, at least, slightly more normal.

Newfound mantra

Dayna Kitsuwa, a spouse on Yokosuka, faced a great deal of emotional difficulty during the 2020 lockdown when she unexpectedly lost her mother to a health issue unrelated to the coronavirus.

When more rounds of lockdowns followed, she thought more grief may also be attached.

“It felt like going through a time warp,” Kitsuwa said of the cycle of restrictions and openings.

Kitsuwa only recently arrived at Yokosuka and said she felt an urgency to make up for the past two years of turmoil.

“I felt compelled to hit the ground running,” she said. “That meant finding a new job and signing up for as many activities and volunteer opportunities as possible.”

Like many of us, Kitsuwa felt a need to be busy stemmed from a perceived amount of lost time to the pandemic, but she soon realized that was unsustainable. She was also tired of beating herself up over backsliding on fitness goals during hiatuses from the gym between lockdowns and her move.

Burnt out, Kitsuwa said she decided to change her approach.

“My new mantra became, ‘What do I have the energy for today?’ Perhaps it’s doing homework for my online classes on subjects I didn’t have time for when I was a busy teacher myself. Perhaps it’s learning about this new body of mine and what it’s capable of,” Kitsuwa said. “Perhaps it’s grieving for my mother and missing my former home and life. As long as it serves my own personal growth, I don’t deem it a ‘waste of time.’”

We live in a culture that uses our ability to capitalize on any amount of free time as a measurement of success. Still, Kitsawa said the past two years have shifted her perspective about that, and she wants to share that sentiment with others who may be struggling to “do enough” when lockdowns occur.

Tastes of home


Photos by Elysa Hardison

Elysa Hardison, another spouse on Yokosuka, has an impressive collection of recipes from her great-grandparents. Except Hardison does not keep these recipes on cards tucked into boxes or in books, but in her head and heart.

“My family lumpia recipe is something that's taught in person and never written down,” Hardison said. “Lumpia is a dish that is centered around community and time with loved ones.”

Since lumpia, a dish similar to fried spring rolls commonly found in Indonesia and the Philippines, take a long time to prep and cook, Hardison said it is an ideal quarantine time killer that helps her feel more connected to her family.

“While prepping, we catch up, and spill family gossip,” she said. “When I was chopping my veggies, I was on a video call with family members back home in the States. Not only were they excited to hear what I was making, but they were thrilled to spend time with me.”

Hardison said that food that connects her to her culture is far more important than the hype around quarantine weight gain or the bombardment of advertisements for staying fit during the rounds of lockdowns.

“Quarantine is hard enough. Separation from loved ones is hard enough. The loss we all have experienced is hard enough,” she said. “Do we really need to add spending time alone beating ourselves up about our body sizes and shapes, too?”

In these times, health can take on a new meaning, especially in terms of coping.

“In my eyes, eating fried lumpia on a Zoom call with my family is just as healthy as working out,” Hardison said.


If you are one of those people who trained for a marathon, got your degree, started a home business, or learned a new skill during a period of lockdown, you should be proud of yourself. On the other hand, if all you did was play some Animal Crossing and try to keep your sanity while your children attended virtual school, you should also be proud of yourself. The COVID-19 pandemic is a once-in-a-century event we are still experiencing, and I don’t think there is ever any one correct way of “mastering” something like this.

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