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Saturday, Dec. 9, 2006

JAPAN LITE

Unmasking life's many battles


I finally did it. I wore one of those masks because I caught a cold. Actually, not a cold, but a vicious stomach virus. But I couldn't help wondering: Who dunnit? Who didn't wear a surgical mask and passed their virus on to me?

News photo
Give me all your money or I'll shoot! AMY CHAVEZ PHOTO

Could it have been that night we all ate nabe and put our chopsticks into the same pot? Hmmm.

According to my Japanese doctor friends, catching something from everyone dipping their chopsticks into the same pot is remote as most colds are transferred via airborne substances.

And you know airborne substances -- they become airborne divisions.

Flying spit. You can't see it or feel it, but it's there, assaulting you from the mouth of the person standing in front of you.

Some flying spit spreads its wings and enters your nose or mouth, while other settles on your lip or near your nose ready to jump into any orifice.

I saw an ojii-chan the other day with huge hairs dangling out of his nose: He was really asking for a virus to leap on to one of those branches.

But it's important to wear a mask in Japan to curb the spread of viruses because here you come into such close contact with people in places like the post office or the bank.

In the U.S. we don't use masks. Not only would it encourage bank robberies, but we already have large pieces of bulletproof glass that separate the customers from the bank tellers. That glass is just a really strong spit guard. Not even the strongest spitball could penetrate it.

I decided I wasn't going to be as bad as the person who gave me this virus. I would wear a mask.

But when you wear a mask, you are also bringing attention to the fact you are sick. I was looking forward to days of not being bothered by anyone as people would run away from me in fear of catching my cold. Surely no one would sit next to me on the train.

If I then told people I had influenza, people would scatter even faster and I'd have the entire train car to myself. It would be bliss! Empty train cars, people vacating store entrances to let me through. Upon entry to a restaurant I'd just yell, Influenza! and the restaurant would be all mine in moments.

After having lived a few days behind one of those surgical masks, a "baby pink" one for females, mind you, I have to say that it's not a lot of fun to live with your own germs. First of all, those masks stink. You'd think they could put some aromatherapy to work there or some smelling salts. But no, you just breathe out your germs, then breathe them in again and then they go up your nose, each time re-infecting you. No wonder it takes so long to get over a cold.

Furthermore, as opposed to repelling people as I had intended, the mask seemed to spur the oba-chans into nursing care action. They wanted to give me medicine ("No thank you, I'm fine"), carry my bags for me ("No thank you, I'm fine, really"), drive me places ("I'm fine, now lay off!").

I also had to answer a lot of questions about why I was sick. The Japanese, masters of stating the obvious, would say, "Oh Amy, have you caught a cold?" as if this was an open-ended question. No, actually, I'm wearing this mask because I just got out of surgery. You know, English surgery: fixing up of some verbs, performing some noun replacements.

And all the oba-chans told me I should be in bed, taking a few days off ("I've already taken a couple days off, I'm fine now thank you"). The world turns ladies. "I'm fine," I told them again and again.

I don't know which is worse, fighting off the virus, or fighting off the oba-chans. But I know one thing, I'm never wearing a mask again.



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