11.09.2011

Baikinman

Absolutely miserable
Beginning Saturday, my family has been plunged into varying degrees of sickness. It began with Theo, who almost certainly brought it home with him from kindergarten, and turned into a deep wet cough and runny nose over night. William has since contracted the rattly cough and runny nose and Dustin and I are starting to feel a bit of a throat tickle. This is actually the first time William has ever been sick so he has absolutely no idea what hit him. He has been dejectedly pawing at his face for the past few hours, stubbornly refusing my attempts to wipe his running nose, and being even more clingy and demanding than he normally is.

The last time that we were sick was in July, right before Theo was hospitalized for his kidney infection. Being sick in Japan is a new experience and thankfully we didn't have to think about it until now.

Before I came to Japan, I had only ever used a face mask when helping to install insulation in our house, and otherwise didn't really think about them much. If anything, I was under the impression that people in Asia wore them in an attempt to keep from getting sick. I think that is a small part of it, but more importantly I have found is  people wear them out of a social obligation to contain their germs and prevent sickness from spreading. It is interesting from an epidemiological standpoint, because you can much more readily identify the the sick people in your midst. Some weeks it seems that I run into tons of people wearing masks and sometimes I go a day or two without seeing anyone.

Theo's favorite antihero
The whole driving force behind the sick mask seems incredibly Japanese to me. Sacrificing your comfort and looks for the good of the whole population. I actually really admire that people would be willing to make themselves that much more uncomfortable for the common good. The Japanese perspective on germs is pretty apparent in the popular kid's show "Anpanman". The villain is Baikinman, or Bacteria Man, who tries to create confusion and dirtiness wherever he goes. Only healthy and clean Anpanman or soap has the ability to stop him. He is most definitely Theo's favorite character on the show, but I think that has more to do with  the spaceship he flies and less to do with his dastardly schemes.    

For the most part, the western culture in which I was raised holds a very "every man for himself" view of sickness. This is evidenced by declining vaccination rates and how very few people do anything to limit your exposure to them or their children when they are sick. I still remember the heavy, malodorous, humid breaths of a congested classmate sitting in the row behind me during an exam in university. It was not surprising, after 3 hours of his coughing and mouth breathing bathing my neck in disease ridden moistness, that I woke up the next morning feeling awful. I am sure his attitude was: "I am the one suffering here. If your immune system can't handle this, it's your own fault."

Even being sick can be kawaii
Obviously, I like the idea of disease prevention on a wider scale, but when it comes down to it, I am sure I will feel extremely awkward wearing a conspicuous face mask in public. I am also sure that the feeling of my sick breath trapped to my face uncomfortable and disgusting. Oh, well.


Theo is much harder to convince. At first, I thought that they couldn't possibly expect 3 year olds to keep a mask on their face, but I have since seen quite a few kids his age wearing them without complaint. He has not gone to kindergarten this week so far, but other than his lingering cough, it seems as though he is well enough to go back tomorrow. With a mask on. I found him a set of cute shinkansen face masks to try to make it seem fun, but when I tried one out on him this morning he was not too impressed. It only lasted about 30 seconds before he ripped it off. I am not so he will keep it on tomorrow, but at least his teacher will know I tried. Hopefully he won't become the class baikinman!
He ripped this off seconds after the picture was taken

1 comment:

derrydown said...

Oh, poor little William's face is heart-breaking! My prayers are with all of you. Fie on you, Baikinman!