The thing about germs in a foreign country, is that they tend to be foreign germs. During my second month or so here, I found a you-tube vlogger who said a common experience among Westerners coming to Japan is the advent of a horrible head-cold. I was no exception to this rule. When I first arrived, I had one week to shadow Mrs. Knox in her classes, two weeks of vacation to prepare to teach, and then I was to hit the ground running. I hit the futon coughing instead. Thankfully, after about ten days of sickness, when it became apparent to me that I couldn’t just shake the thing off by myself, Mrs. Knox was still in town and able to take me to the clinic to get some medicine. During the time dear Judy was still with me in Japan, those first three months, I think I was sick for about half of it. Judy told me once that she had begun to be afraid I’d never get up and leave the house again.
The second time I had to go to the clinic for medicine, my friend Mrs. E took me. When you’re running a fever it’s really nice to have someone else do all the talking and then interpret the medical terminology later. Apparently I have bronchial asthma in Japan. I ended up back in the clinic again last month (by my own telephone and navigation skills this time — yay!) while Mom and Dad were here visiting, and colds that usually take about a week to totally get over without any doctor’s visit in the States seem to take twice as long to dissipate even with the help of whatever this (actually amazingly helpful) stuff the doctor has prescribed here. I’m back to hoping now, just like I hoped after the last times I was sick, that my immune system has finally adjusted to our new circumstances and can finally get over things more easily.
My housemates, Mr. Tumnus the rabbit and Tiger the cat got sick at about the same time I did, each with something different, so it was an adventure in medication for a week or so — everyone needing different little pill packets or eye drops given at different times of day. Thankfully, my furry friends cooperated and everybody seems to be feeling better, though Tummy still has weepy eyes and the occasional sniffle. 😦 Myrtle and Yurtle, the turtles, remain as greenish and robust as ever.
The way to handle sickness is a little different in Japan. When I first visited three years ago, one of our team members, Lana, got some kind of flu in her first few days in the country. It was summertime then, and terribly hot in the upper room we girls shared at the first location we were helping out at. Though Lana was miserably uncomfortable in the stuffy room, every time any of the Japanese ladies found the AC turned on, they’d bustle over and switch it off again so her sickness wouldn’t worsen. After they urged her to get some rest and bustled out again, Lana would turn to us with pleading eyes and we’d switch the AC back on so she could sleep. 🙂 When one of our team members cut open her foot badly while playing outdoors, a fifteen-minute argument ensued between the denizens of differing hemispheres over whether it was better to bandage the wound to stop the bleeding or leave it open to get air to heal. Another difference seems to be in how to view doctors’ visits. At home, if you get the sniffles or a cough, you go to the drug store or your own medicine cabinet and take some cold medicine. You drink more fluids and try to rest. You stay home from places where you might make other people sick. Here in Japan, you go to the doctor at the first change in your health (they always say “go to the hospital,” which sounds very serious to an American), are in and out of consultation with him in ten minutes (after waiting an hour in the waiting room — some things are the same), pick up your scripts across the street, and carry on about your regular business with a white medical mask to shield the people close to you from your germs.
Another difference Judy and I noticed right away that impacts your health in Japan is the diet. Of course there’s a lot more walking and biking in Japan — we expected that. There’s also a lot more seafood and vegetables in each meal. Less protein. Less fat. Fewer calories. We expected all of that, and thought we’d probably lose a few pounds in the first month of living here. What we didn’t expect was the massive amount of food eaten at a meal and the tiny amount of drink consumed. Every traditional-style meal involved a large, rounded bowl of rice, a little bowl of miso soup, a single child-sized cup of drink (often left unfinished by our Japanese friends) a chunk of meat or assortment of tempura, a side of salad and pickled vegetables, (sometimes noodles, too, depending on where you eat) and a small cup of hot tea. Maybe 8-12 ounces of fluid in the meal, not even enough to fill our standard American 16 ounce glass once. Certainly, it seems, no one here is trying to get in their 64 ounces of water a day. We spent the first couple weeks over-full and dehydrated until we could figure out how to politely manage the portions and learned to take advantage of the drink vending machines on every-other corner.
Amazing how ways of scientific and medical thought assumed to be established and irrefutable fact are not recognized in other medically advanced, first-world countries. Another reminder that even people much smarter than I am don’t know everything and that I shouldn’t assume so many things just because I’m used to my own slice of American culture.
It’s different, and I’m a bit slow to get used to the local ways, but the Japanese are known for having long life-spans, so I guess they’re doing something right. 🙂