Thursday, August 12, 2010

Postcard from the Kaisha: masked edition

Welcome to those of you finding your way over via Loco in Yokohama. If you're already a gentle reader of mine, please check out Loco's site for a different and well-written spin on Japan.

I suspect that I was recently schooled by my secretary but as always, I can't be sure. I've done a Kaisha Health Edition before, but recent events have given me pause to consider the issue again.

Last week (or was it the week before?) I developed a narsty cough but showed up at work diligently nonetheless. I say diligently but I'm sure others would called it stupidly, for who wants to sit next to an audibly sick person? I for one, do not.

However, not being able to take time off, I came in anyway and tried to be as courteous a cougher as possible. The next day, I arrived to my secretary in a mask. Exploring the possibilities, I can only think that she was sick herself, or else was making a passive aggressive gesture to encourage my donning of a mask as well.

Parasols, manic thank yous and apologies, and secretive toileting I can do, but I cannot get on board with wearing a mask when sick here. It looked like my secretary was wearing a small white muzzle. This put me in mind of a tiny dog I saw the other day fitted with a tiny muzzle, which made me wonder whether it would even be able to get its petite mouth open wide enough to do any real damage.

I think masks look creepy. I realize with stuff like swine flu around, there has been a big contagion scare, but this mask obsession has been around in Japan far longer than the flu scare. I understand the implied courtesy behind wearing a mask when sick and I'll admit to turning away from someone openly coughing, but the look is too freaky for me. I don't want to become known as Contagious Whitie (as opposed to Eating Whitie, Audibly Peeing Whitie or Ostracized Whitie - hey! collect all three!), but I am a bit stumped as to what to do when sick at work other than religiously taking my over-prescribed medicine from the Dr. I would love to know the statistics on whether common cold transmission is lower here or whether these masks are a total farce. I of course am inclined to think that the masks are fairly useless and have become more of a cultural thing, but I have most definitely been wrong before.

For the time being, I will just have to wonder whether my secretary is trying to beam a message at me from behind her little white mask.

17 comments:

kathrynoh said...

They really can't do any good or there wouldn't be so many people wearing them! I think people should be at home when they are sick or, if they have to go out, wear a bell or something around their neck.

Sarahf said...

Those masks always make me think of bank robbers. I had a student with a really cute winnie the Pooh one once though. She looked like a really cute, five year old bank robber. Cute, but slightly disturbing.

Green-Eyed Geisha said...

kathrynoh: Do you mean they must be good? I think it's better to be home too, but unfortunately a lot of people don't really have that choice..

Sarahf: Kids I see with masks are cute, but I always think we are in some kind of movie about the plague or some airborne illness. Once I saw a whole family on the train with masks, which was pretty nutty looking.

Cory said...

The UK Ministry of Health annoyed the Japanese during last years flu panic by pointing out that the masks need to be changed after a couple hours, or else the water vapor ruins the filtration ability, rndering them ineffective, unelss they're all swapping them out every few hours, which they don't do.

selena said...

Useless, unless you're wearing surgical grade. All the germs are much smaller than the average tiny air hole in a mask.

Julie said...

Here I have to wear one of those masks to walk outside if I walk on the main streets because the air is so polluted. If I don't I get sick!

It seems like not the best policy to make people come to work when they're sick, especially in modern offices with recycled air -- so easy just to spread germs and make other sick too. people should be able to stay home when sick, even if just to work from home.

but as they say, if logic ruled the world, all men would ride sidesaddle...:-P

sixmats said...

Yeah, it may not do anything, but if you're going to work when you're sick, you should maybe look like you are trying to not get others sick.

Of course, it is your fault for getting sick in the first place.

Green-Eyed Geisha said...

Cory and selena: Excellent news. Well maybe not for Japanese urban society as a whole but.

Julie: That's got to be terrible in the heat. Do the locals wear them for that purpose too?

sixmats: A lot of things seem to be my fault these days :) I agree though, that I shouldn't be at work sick. If this wasn't Japan, I would have stayed home.

julie said...

Green-eyed, yeah, it's kind of hot and yucky.

Locals do wear them, but mostly people who work out in the street like food vendors and securiy guards. I am probably unusual in wearing one for 10 min walks but I've found it makes a huge difference to my health.

Sorry, you're stuck going to work sick and hope you feel better and in good health soon! :-)

Green-Eyed Geisha said...

Julie: I was just catching up on your blog :) Thanks, I am feeling fine now. If I take sick time, it comes out of my paid holidays, which are few compared to other countries so I have to pick and choose. Generally I will work unless I have flu symptoms.

kathrynoh said...

I mean, if they worked then the cold germs would stop spreading and no one would have colds!

Green-Eyed Geisha said...

Kathrynoh: oops I obviously can't read English anymore!

Generic Jen B said...

*slowly raises hand* Cough, my name is Jen B and I'm a mask-wearer.
*sits back down*
Seriously though, they don't work, I caught EIGHT colds from October to April (I have another one now) and I religiously wear the masks at work and on public transport. I have to say though, I sort of liked wearing the masks; a bit like when it's raining and I fancy that no-one can see me with my umbrella...

Green-Eyed Geisha said...

Jen B: Sorry to hear you are sick again! And props to admitting your habit. I feel the same way with umbrellas and I purposely tilt them down so no one can see my evil eyes. I had to wear an eye patch once and with a hat to boot, I was getting some freaky looks.

karisuma gyaru said...

haha, i hate the masks as well and always refuse to wear them. usually as a kind of "in your face", or "see, it doesn't work!!" statement, as i rarely catch colds. but this last week, i also unluckily caught one and felt kinda bad about being caughing and sniffling away in front of other people without wearing a mask. i didn't feel bad enough to wear one though.

the only time someone has managed to MAKE me wear one was when i had to go teach a lesson to some sick kids in the hospital... i was told "everyone has to" and felt way too guilty to argue... omg, even with the aircon on, talking with that shit on was just so hot and unpleasant!!!

Apryl in Wonderland said...

I like to wear the mask at work - then I also try to make my cough sound a bit worse than it is.

It gets lots of sympathy and I appear to be such a diligent worker! So, it is "what a hard-working white girl" rather than "hm, white girl took the day off again!"

Green-Eyed Geisha said...

karisuma gyaru - I hate not being able to see people's mouths when they are talking! I love the concept of your blog and am going to check it out later!

Apryl - I hadn't thought of that but good idea! Being thought of as the hard little worker bee is MUCH better than the contagious bitch next door!