Thursday, July 23, 2009

Our Man don't unnerstan'

It was a rough train ride home this evening. Not that it was as bad as the one at the same time last week when a 40-something lady sat beside me with her music player at full volume so that she could politely share her tunes with the rest of the train. I was uncomfortable and embarrassed, as I knew that it could not have really been her who was being rude as she appeared to be Japanese, so it must have been me.

No, tonight I had a very bad B.O. problem. I had showered and used deodorant, but naturally it was not enough to overcome the normal foreigner stench. I never noticed the foulness until the stop after I got on when some young fellow in a nice black suit---of perhaps the same quality as the one that the famous eikaiwa factory, GABA, used to give away free to all new victims teachers---sat down next to me. It was the predictable odor that one could expect from a person who had not bathed properly that day---or perhaps week. It was the same odor one could expect from any human who had not used deodorant. It was the strong odor of rancid armpits. There was nothing to make it different or unique for an unwashed human body.

So I knew it had to be me. I knew it because a few years ago I was reading in the New York Times fashion section* about a fashion show in Tokyo in which the American author of the article had written that "the Japanese have almost no body odor," and if the New York Times says so, it's gotta be true. They have fact checkers, you know. It's not just a bunch of nonsense written by culture-shocked nincompoops. No, there is no way that it could have been the Japanese fellow sitting next to me. (Of course I suppose he could have been from some other country in the region or maybe a guy of Japanese descent from overseas which might mean that he could have been the source of the stench.)

While sitting there trying not to inhale too deeply, I began to distract myself by mentally reviewing what I had seen on my thrice weekly read of some choice Japan-related blogs.

It was then that I thought of the British fellow in Abiko who, despite having lived in Japan for an extended period, does not seem to see the otherworldly uniqueness of the people and country!! In fact, he says that the Japanese seem pretty much like folks back in England.

Imagine that. Why, it makes it seem like Japan and the Japanese are of the planet earth and the human race! This kind of thought cannot be allowed to spread! Suppose it gets out and becomes common knowledge---both among people overseas and among the Japanese themselves? How are the Unique-Japan explainers supposed to get book deals, write absurd newspaper/magazine articles, or make unusually bad Hollywood movies detailing the topsy-turvy world of this inscrutable island and people if we have folks like Our Man taking away all the mystery? What about the poor fellow who writes occasional articles at the Japan Times supporting bigotry and racial/ethic/group discrimination in Japan who also claims to be crayoning a book about it? Who would buy such a thing if everyone thought that discrimination was discrimination and not ok just because it's in mysterious Japan? It could even discourage someone from doing important research for a book on why dying in Japan means that you are less dead, or at least dead in a different way, than you would be elsewhere.**

As I came out of my attempt at self-distraction and rejoined my fellow commuters, I began to feel so bad and so embarrassed about my smelly self that about 10 minutes into the ride, I had to get up and stand by the doors about 15 feet away. It worked as I could no longer smell myself from such a distance.

*I never saved or linked to that article---something I regret.
: The original NYT masterpiece was an article about perfume by some perfume expert who dropped in to Tokyo named Chandler Burr. I once had so much time on my hands that I tried to read the full 600 plus page translation of The Tale of Genji. In it, they seemed to use a lot of incense on their clothing, so I asked my wife why and the silly woman said it was because people didn't bathe so often back then and they did it to hide B.O. Now I know that she was just funnin' me because they could not have had B.O.

**Not a real book idea yet---as far as I know.