Winter in Japan, Alternatively Titled “You’re Going to Catch a Cold No Matter What”

As the hordes of old people in their puffy Michelin Man jackets would tell you, the dead of winter has come to central Japan.  Surgical masks are flying off the shelf like magic.  The ubiquitous vending machines all seem to have at least one row devoted to “hot”, well, more like lukewarm, beverages.  There are more sniffles on the train than a whole movie theater of middle school girls watching The Notebook for the first time.  Yes, it’s that time of year.  Cold weather has arrived and with it cold season.

While there are definite benefits to living in the biggest city in the world, nothing can make you rue the day you moved to Tokyo more than the day some old drunk dude coughs right into your mouth on the train home.  I’m sure you’ve heard about how crowded Japanese cities can be and no where is this more obvious than the country’s highly regarded public transit system, clean, on time (when there hasn’t been a suicide by train), and chockfull of sick people just waiting to get you sick.

Make no mistake, Japan might be sanitary on a surface level but it has a dark, dirty, stanky underbelly that’ll drag you down and knock you out with nary a second to spare.  I was naive, too, when I first moved here but three bouts of the flu in two years and countless head colds later I am now a hardened veteran of the Japanese winter.

So Stephen, you ask, how does one avoid getting knocked down for the count by a winter cold in Japan?

The truth is that there is no one true way to avoid being wa20140217-132938.jpgylaid by the cruel Tokyo winter but that won’t stop most Japanese people from wearing surgical masks anyway.  Why?  I guess because they think it’ll stop the spread of illness, I guess.  I was once told that people wear these dumb things not to keep from getting sick but rather out of some polite need to stop the spread of their own illness to others.  Personally, I think people just wear them because they’re too lazy to cover their mouths when they cough.  Most of these masks are too small to really keep any stray goo from getting out anyways.

Want to join in the surgical mask fun but too cheap to throw out the four-hundred or so yen at your local convenience store?  I found these instructions on making your own on Pinterest (Of course I read Pinterest, I’m an enlightened heterosexual millennial man who appreciates these sorts of things, you see).

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It should also be noted that Japanese cold medicine tastes terrible and is, for the most part, weak as all hell.  Much has been made about Japan’s steadfast “war” on drugs and one byproduct of that rebuffing of all substances that can possibly alter your mind is the complete lack of your traditional western cough syrup in Japanese drug stores.

The stuff you can get, a lot of it based on old traditional Chinese-style roots-and-herbs cures, tastes horrible and I’m not entirely sure it does much of anything aside from ruining your appetite for the next couple of hours.

Now, to be fair, I’ve really made little to no effort to actually look for strong cough medicine or ask my local doctor for the “good stuff” when I’m sick.  But considering how often people do get “under the weather” here, you’d think finding medicine that works would be a hell of a lot easier.  But that’s Japan, warts and all.

Alls I knows is that when the zombie outbreak comes, everyone riding the 6:30 Chuo Line Express is screwed.

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