Japan is the land of precaution. Anything that can possible disrupt the order of things, should be addressed beforehand. One such this is -wait for it- the flu.
As soon as the flu season started, everyone began stockpiling masks, medicine, vitamins, anything and everything that can protect your body. Even the big-time performers at the concert I attended warned the crowd ‘Dress warm and be careful not to catch a cold, it’s THAT time of the year’. I agree completely with such an attitude, for health is our most valuable possession at the end of the day. Nonetheless, the overacting people around me, never fails to bring a smile to my face. For example, on the first day of November, my supervisor at work interrupted me with a serious face and announced with all formality ‘The influenza season started. It is not good to miss a day of work because of that. Be sure to be vaccinated as soon as possible.’ Flu vaccines are common back home, though young people usually don’t use them because they can get away with just a day or two of fever. What surprised me was that the reason to be cautious was not the rational ‘be careful, a simple cold might turn out badly’, rather the not-so-motivational-in-the-end ‘be careful, you might skip work and that’s bad, deadlines won’t wait’. Considering Japanese people’s love for short, cute words (eg platform->hom, smartphone->sumaho), the long term ‘influenza’ instead of the usual equivalent ‘flu’, only stresses the point. I will admit that in the beginning I was kinda freaked out, bringing to my mind the plague or something. And now that ‘influenza’ is at it’s peak, half of the population takes care of the other half that is sick or recovering. I came across a sweet scene at the office, where a female employee gave a new ‘magical’ vitamin++ bottle to a co-worker that complained that his cold was healing too slowly. Some vitamin bottles even have space on them for a message, in order to be gifted as presents, much like KitKat chocolate. Whether you are the ‘react’ or the ‘over-react’ type of person, always wear A CARDIGAN (Greek grandma talking) and 気を付けてね! (Japanese baachan talking).
P.S. some photos from the snow-covered Suzukakedai Campus of Tokyo Institute of Technology
Tue 21:00 in Tamachi (major business area in Tokyo):
First working day after New Year’s, the train reeks of alcohol and salary men are either sleep-standing or staggering.
Sometimes Thursdays are worse than Mondays.
[Featured image: The closest thing to a beach atm – Omotesando station]
The situation with big supermarkets in Japan is the following:
- You buy what you want and put it in a basket.
- The cashier scans the price tags and puts the products in a differently coloured basket.
- You pay, the cashier gives you some plastic bags, you go to a counter nearby and tidy up your stuff.
- You are good to go.
But what happens if you bought female products like sanitary napkins? As soon as the cashier notices it, puts it in a non-transparent dark coloured bag, and even closes the top part with a sticker, so that the contents are visible in no way. The cashier’s hand movements were so spectacularly quick, avoiding a single glance from other customers was of utmost importance.
When I got back home, I expressed my surprise to my Asian roommate and her answer was: “But it is obvious that it should be hidden, I want no one to know! Why would anyone?”. I tried explaining my logic to her, but she was persistent on her opinion, so we reached no conclusion.
OK, I get that the female private parts are a sensitive topic that most women are not comfortable talking about. I get that all of us don’t want to vaunt about it either. But is it that big a shame that even at the super market we should completely hide it? Every woman has it, that’s where the mother functionality derives from. When you have to deal with the menstruation cycle, sometimes it may be hard, uncomfortable or even gross. But every woman has it, every grandma had it and every girl will have it. Fear of buying tampons etc is an emotion close to the fear of buying condoms. However, if we don’t accept it and don’t learn to talk or ask questions about our sex’s private parts, we may come across much more serious health-related issues, far exceeding in importance some trivial social shame.
Buying tampons or condoms, wearing no-sleeved blouses, wearing no make up: everyday things like that are no a norm for females in Japan and such a behaviour will probably give you some weird looks. I am ok with that, because as a foreigner I usually attract the attention just for existing. But what about a rebellious Japanese girl who got bored of all those rules and norms ?