The Japanese don't sweat!

Trip Start Jul 29, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Japan  ,
Monday, August 21, 2006

First off, I have some very exciting news! My apartment has finally been connected to the internet and I now have regular access to communicate with all you wonderful people from the western hemisphere.

I've also turned off my e-mail alerts every time I write a new entry from now on so I don't flood your e-mailboxes with updates. You guys can just check back as you want, unless you want an alert, in which case I can make it happen.

Well, getting back to the title of this blog entry... it is true: the Japanese do not sweat. Despite the fact that the humidity is at roughly around 90% on a daily basis here, and the Japanese dress very conservatively, they simply do not allow any liquid secretions to seep through the pores in their skin. A business man, in his suit, can ride his bicycle to work in the blazing hot sun and humid air, and arrive completely fresh and dry. Trust me, I've seen it happen. They will carry handkerchiefs or small cloths around with them everywhere for the little drops of perspiration they may experience from time to time, but rarely do I see them use them.

This, however, is not true of the American. No folks, we do not magically transform into one of these sweatless beings of the east when we move over here. We still sweat like hell- and the Japanese cannot help but visibly show you their complete astonishment when they pass you by on the street while you're sweating bullets.

It took me awhile to really understand this. My first indicator was one fine day last weekend when I took a field trip to the beach. There is a beach about an hour train ride from my city and I was surprised by how clean, warm, and calm the water was. It's no beach in Greece, but it's still pretty darn sweet. Anyhow, I had gone with another new ALT and neither of us speak Japanese, though we are trying to learn. On the way back home, we were standing on a train platform at the station trying to study our tickets and see if we could match any of the funny Japanese characters to the signs on the station platform to determine which train we had to take. A man, holding a beer can and visibly drunk, approached us and looked over at our tickets. He told us, in broken English, that we were on the wrong platform and that we had to go over to track 4. We begin heading in that direction and this man begins following us. We are naturally wary and are not even sure if he is leading us in the right direction. We get onto the other track and he stands nearby us on the track as well. We asked other people for confirmation and, in fact, this drunkard had led us in the right direction. Just as we're standing there, waiting for the train, I suddenly, and very unexpectedly, feel something rubbing against the back of my neck. Startled, I turned around to discover that this strange man had taken his dirty, nasty, USED sweat rag and decided to start rubbing my neck with it. I jumped back and sternly said, "No!" To which he tried to explain to me in Japanese (I understand him through his motions not his words), "But you're sweating. I want to dry you off." He continued to pursue his attempt to dry off my sweat by leaning forward and attempting to dry off my collarbone area with his sweat rag. Again, I jumped bag and said, "Please, no!" He was confused by unwillingness to accept his "kind" gesture of drying me off, but thankfully the train arrived and we were able to get on. The man did not stop there. He got onto the train with us, though I am quite sure he was not heading in the same direction as us since we had met him on a completely different platform. He sat across from us and kept trying to lean in and incompetently start some sort of conversation in drunken, broken English. My friend and I avoided eye contact at all costs. He began rummaging through his backpack for a good few minutes and I was curious as to what he was looking for. He seemed to be earnestly looking for something. He finally pulled out two items which I could not make out too clearly and rose from his seat and walked over to my friend and I. In his outstretched hands I noticed that he was holding out two unopened packets of pocket tissues to which he was offering to my friend and I as a gift. We declined the offer and, disappointed, the man got off the train at the next stop.

It wasn't until the next day, however, when I realized that the sweating issue was starting to become a theme. The next day was a Saturday and, on the third Saturday of every month, the women in my wing of the apartment complex where I live get together and tend to the garden on the grounds. Its optional to join the community group and participate, but I certainly didn't want to ostracize myself and, besides, I like the idea of being responsible for the management of your community. So I went out into the blazing sun and helped these mostly older women (like granny age) do the garden. Again, I speak no Japanese and they speak no English, so they had to act out for me the fact that they were requesting for me to help mow the lawn. I was happy about that because it is a simple, yet time-consuming task that wouldn't require me to ask too many questions. So there I am, pushing this manual lawn mower over a rather large garden in nearly 100% humidity and I am sweating so badly that my shirt has literally changed colors all together. No, not just some embarrassing spots here and there... it became a whole different, darker version of itself. Meanwhile, the 80-year old grandmas wearing more clothing than I are plucking weeds and trimming hedges without breaking any sweat. One of them noticed the oceans of sweat pouring out of me and said to me, "It's hot today, isn't it?" in Japanese- one of the select phrases I actually do understand. I replied, "Yes, it is," and continued with the mowing. I thought nothing of it until later that day, I went to the supermarket to recycle some bottles and cans. I had biked over and was sweating again and a man on his bicycle next to me says, "My it is hot today, isn't it?" Again, I agreed. And then, on a third occasion, I biked over to my neighborhood convenience store to buy a drink and I bet you can guess what the counterperson said to me... "It's hot today, isn't it?" It was then I realized that all these people were not just remarking about the weather to me, but were, in fact, addressing the fact that the humidity in the air had somehow attached itself to my skin and manifested itself in the form of my sweat. It was then I understood that, "My it's hot today, isn't it?" was really the polite Japanese way of saying, "Damn you are one sweaty white girl!!!"
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