Van Homan Returns to Japan Mid-Pandemic

COVID-19 travel bans are no joke and have impacted the BMX world tremendously. Van Homan - who moved to Tokyo to work behind-the-scenes on the 2020 Olympics - was stuck in the United States with seemingly no way to return to Japan. Well, time passed and a few rules changed and, after some meetings, paperwork, and COVID tests, Van was able to make the journey. We caught up with Van to learn about accidentally getting stuck in the US, flying across the world on an empty plane, what the future of The Olympics looks like, and more.


When did you go back to the United States and what prompted you to make that decision?

I headed to the States on March 28th. Things had already been pretty serious with the shut down in the US for about a week, but it was close to business as usual in Japan still. That was nice in a way, but also had me paranoid that it wasn’t being taken seriously enough. As soon as things started getting cancelled over here, I felt it was a good idea to head home. Honestly, it was a tough decision - not knowing exactly what to do - but with all the uncertainties, I wanted to be back with my girlfriend and family if things were to get really out of hand. If every thing blew over, then I would be back to Japan in a couple weeks and, if it got out of hand, then I was where I wanted and needed to be.  

At what point did it seem like you were literally stuck? 

Well, I don’t think any of us expected it to go on this long. After a few months, I started to realize that there was no end in sight and that the USA was by far the worst in COVID numbers. This had me concerned that it could be a while before I got back to work. It wasn’t so much a matter of being stuck that had me frustrated - but more being in limbo. Not knowing when - or if - I could get back just had me asking myself a lot of questions like, "do I renew my lease in Japan? Do I need to find another job?" Everything was just uncertain and that was the difficult part.


How was your time in the US? Did you get to ride much?

Once I got over the initial quarantine cooped-up feeling and started finding a routine, it was really nice just to be back and have time with people I care about. Again, I never expected it to go on so long, so at first I was just kind of waiting it out, eating, watching Netflix, and generally being lazy. Once I realized this could go on for a while, I started to find a routine to keep my body and mind more healthy and focused. My girlfriend was making tons of amazing meals, so I was eating healthy. I was taking a lot of long road rides on my Fairdale, studying my Japanese, and, of course, riding some BMX. We also started figuring out people we were comfortable seeing and places we were comfortable going without feeling like we were being unsafe or irresponsible. Overall, it was really nice being back, the unsetting part was not knowing what was next. 

I know you mentioned having to go to New York City for meetings at the Japanese Embassy. Was it a big process to get approval to return?

Once Japan announced that they were allowing foreign residents back in under certain circumstances, I started to sort out the details. Luckily, I fell under the eligible criteria. If you had left Japan after April 5th - when the travel ban was put in place - then you still couldn’t return. It was a little bit of a hassle having to go up to New York a couple times, but every thing went fairly smooth from there. The most difficult thing was finding a place that gave fast COVID test results with a doctors sign off because I had to have a test within 72 hours of my flight.

What all did you have to do in order to board the plane?

I needed the COVID test with in 72 hours of the flight, but other then that, it was fairly normal. When I landed, I had to take another COVID test and show all of my documents. They seemed extra diligent at customs, but all of my documents were in order, so it was no problem. They wanted to know how I was getting home and instructed me not to use public transportation or be in social settings for two weeks. 


What was the flight back like?

There were only ten people and thirteen crew members on the entire plane. Since this all began, I noticed that flights still were going back and forth from Japan. I wondered who could possibly be on these planes with all fo the travel restrictions in place and why they were still running so many flights. The answer is almost no one was on those planes. I still don’t understand why they had them in the sky so often. Haha!

Is Tokyo shut down - similar to how things in New Jersey were?

I haven’t left my apartment much other than to go riding because I was instructed to do so as little as possible for two weeks. However, things definitely are not shut down on the same level as New Jersey and Philadelphia. The number of cases is much smaller here than in the States, but people still seem to be cautious. Masks are already part of Japanese culture, so everyone is wearing a mask. There is plastic up for the convenience store clerks. I don’t know - pretty normal stuff for the times, but restaurants are still open and there doesn’t seem to be the same level of panic. 

What was the first thing you did once you got back?

I had a Suntory and went to bed - Haha. I woke up super early the next morning because of the jet lag and had a sunrise session at a spot that normally isn’t rideable because it's to busy. 


Your apartment basically sat empty for a number of months. Was everything ok? Was your fridge full of expired food?

Yeah, all was good. Luckily, I have good friends here that checked up on the place for me. I definitely owe Ken Jungnickel one for keeping everything in order while I was gone.

Have you gotten a chance to ride yet?

Yeah. I've been taking advantage of the jet lag and riding at sunrise while the city is quiet. Definitely looking forward to hitting some more spots soon. I want to take advantage of the year I have left here. It will go fast. 


Does it seem that everything is still moving forward towards the new Olympic dates?

Absolutely. Everyone is working hard and looking forward to a great event in 2021.

All things considered, now that you're back, does it seem like some normalcy has been restored in your life?

I don’t really know what that means. My life never seems to be Normal. Haha! I know I’m excited to be back in Japan with a goal and some direction again. I really look forward to the world getting better and helping make some good things happen next year.

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