Moving Forward

Safety First


Welcome to my new format! As previously mentioned, I am taking a different approach to my weekly blogs. By now you should all be familiar with my mundane, day-to-day actions. Hence forth, I will no longer provide a play-by-play commentary. Instead I will sum up the week’s high points in a few paragraphs. The other half of my writing will be focused towards cultural observations. Some topics will be explored at great lengths. Other topics may merely receive a mentioning.

Please let me know what you think of the new format. I appreciate any and all feedback! 😀


The week:

Five days of work and two days of play, all of which was fun.

Thursday, after work, I was calling my students that were absent for the day. If a student is a no-call-no-show, the teacher is supposed to briefly call them. While these calls can take up a few minutes at the end of the day, I think it’s a great policy. It demonstrates to the students that we take notice of their absence. As such it’s encouraging for students to make that extra effort to come to class, even after a long day.

Midway through one of my conversations my coworker, Midori, started laughing at me. After the call I looked over and asked her why she had been laughing. “You’re really becoming Japanese, ” she said, “you were bowing on the phone.” Where Westerners shake hands, and at many other times, the Japanese bow. During my call I had been subconsciously bowing to the person on the other end of the phone. I’m sure the they were doing the same thing.This is very normal for the Japanese to do. My quest to assimilate continues at a moderate pace. 🙂

The weekend:

Saturday after work I had a drink and some appetizers with Hamish and Yuri, a Japanese teacher I only see on Saturdays. We frequented our favorite bar, Angie’s. It was nice spending some time with the two outside the work place.

Sunday morning I met Hamish at the station and we hopped a train to Roppongi. We attended a church service with one of Hamish’s coworkers. We rocked, rolled and prayed. An hour and change later we left the building and headed over to Tokyo Midway. This is a really, really ritzy shopping center. We wandered around and had a light lunch. We separated for a few hours. I changed a few trains and met up with Lauren & Elisha in Shibuya. We had coffee and window shopped for a short time.

As the evening settled upon Tokyo I left the girls and met back up with Hamish. Hamish, two of his coworkers and myself all set out beneath the neon lights of Shibuya. Our destination; an art show at a foreign friendly bar, the Pink Cow. Our friend was debuting a music video he was heavily involved with and he invited us along. The show was rather unorthodox, art work was strewn about the walls. The focus of the evening was directed to a stage, with an open mic, where many different people enlighten us. We took a booth close to the stage and ordered dinner. A multitude of artists came and went; a Japanese guitarist playing western tunes, a stand up comedian, an over served, self righteous New Yorker with wikipedia quotes and a harmonica, the music video, an experimental musical duo and finally a belly dancer.

The quality of the performers was… varied. My attention shifted between the stage and our ragtag assortment of art-enthusiasts. Of particular interest was a charming young lady from the heartland of America. Nebraska to be exact. I was floored to be 6,000 miles from home and find another person that grew up not three hours from me. We chit-chatted and reveled in the company of each other. Numbers were exchanged and we’re set to meet again this week. Details to come.

Monday was spent with the girls. We set out with the intention of seeing an exhibit showcasing artifacts from Pompei. However our information got crossed and they were closed. The remainder of the day was spent traipsing around Yokohama with no real direction. We did some window shopping and enjoyed a light lunch on a grassy knoll overlooking Yokohama harbor. In the train station we crossed paths with a Texan in the Air Force. We added him to our company and enjoyed a slow Monday with perfect weather.

The ladies and I have a tendency to pick up strangers when we’re roaming around Tokyo. Often we ourselves will extend an olive branch, other times the strangers will just approach, as was the case today. Corey, the serviceman, saw white people and took a chance asking us for directions. Of course I am expressing caution when taking another under our wing. Thus far I have only benefited from being kind to others. Let’s hope my luck continues.


On Monday, Elisha was feeling a little under the weather. As such, she was wearing the Japanese-standard, surgeon mask. You may remember seeing thousands of Asians wearing these during the SARS hysteria. Long after SARS and the Bird Flu, these masks continue to be very popular. I literally see hundreds of people wearing these mask every day. My students wear them. Senior citizens and small children don them. Even young and healthy adults sport them as they venture outside. Taxi drivers and cashier’s especially feel comfortable hiding behind the white cotton.

I will grant a little leeway with the masks since we are in the middle of flu season. It’s better to be safe than sorry. However as a follower of western medicine, I find the whole obsession to be a little silly. All of my research indicates the masks do very little to protect the wearer, and they are virtually useless to protect against viruses. Why then, are the people of Japan obsessed with wearing these?

I believe there are three primary reasons the majority of Japanese wear the surgeons’ mask: 1. Tokyo is the most populated metropolitan area in the world. 2. Children are indoctrinated into wearing “Hello Kitty” & “Pikachu” masks at a very young age. 3. This entire country is filled with hypochondriacs. Allow me to explain. With such a large population, and high density, the average person comes into contact with an untold number of strangers everyday. Whether they are squeezed into a train or using a dirty handrail, Tokyoites run the risk of germs everyday.

A very high percentage of children I see are wearing a tiny mask made for kids. Their mothers’ too have a mask on. Many mother’s in Japan are housewives. Many mothers smother their only-children in a hilarious fashion. They stay at home with their children and dote on them. I can only imagine all of the worrying and fear the average mother instills in her child in this crucial time period. But I suspect it to be enough to make that young person wear a mask the rest of their adult life.

I can’t help but get the impression that hypochondria is a very serious ailment here, and that is goes without being mentioned. The few Japanese I have been able to speak to about germs & illness display an irrational fear. Hand washing is a neurotic habit of many people. Hand sanitizer is just now being very popular here, and many people take baths in it. I walk a fine line in my observations of these tendencies. Sometimes I find the behavior hilarious, other times I’m genuinely concerned about their obsession.

All in all, I believe it to be an admirable trait to be aware and apprehensive to germs. In this respect the Japanese are far ahead of many other nations. At the same time I believe moderation is the key to any healthy lifestyle. I chose to wear a mask that Elisha offered to me today. I sported it through a café, on the train, even to my grocery store. All the while I felt like I had a safety blanket tied across my face. It was fun and different for a few hours, but it was not my cup of tea. I sit here now with my mask in the dust bin.

I do believe this practice to be a little silly and unnecessary, but who am I to judge? This is their country and it’s their practice. I often find it enough to note the stark differences between here and home. But different is good. It keeps everything in perspective.


About japanesealex

Alexander lived in Japan from 2010 to 2013. He is now pursuing a career in public service in Honolulu, Hawaii.

6 responses to “Moving Forward”

  1. Kelsey says :

    Digging the new format, Alex.

  2. watashiwagaijin says :

    I like your new format 😀
    Keep writing! Hope you had a good Tuesday :3

  3. Emily Bulling says :

    Alex- haven’t read your blog in awhile but this popped up on my newsfeed on facebook today and decided to give it a read…. I love it. Your articulation of cultural experiences is really insightful and it’s a very interesting read. It sounds like you are having an incredible time!!

  4. kellee says :

    The week: paragraph 2… on the other END of the phone, not friend of the phone.

    You love me.

  5. Jessie says :

    I’m enjoying the new format! I hope I received a few bows during our phone conversation today. 🙂
    I think grandma Nancy and I could get along well with the mask wearing and compulsive handwashing.

  6. Luda says :

    All caught up! The new formats totally doing it’s thing. Crazy!! Pry the only other Nebraskan in Japan and you ran into her… Bananas!!

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