My daily walk to the shops has become somewhat of trek through the Arabian Desert. A scene reminiscent of Lawrence of Arabia. A sort of Lawrence of Hiroshima, if you will. Yep, the sun has been set to “Incinerate” mode as Japan experiences a historic heatwave with record-breaking temperatures reaching 41.1 degrees. After the recent devastating flooding and landslides in Western Japan, which left 225 people dead and more than $6 billion in property damage, it seems that “Mother Nature” refuses to let-up. More than 70 people have died and more than 22,000 have been hospitalised due to the persistent heat. And it doesn’t seem as though it’ll get cooler anytime soon. That’s a slight concern seen as though August is usually Japan’s hottest month, and it’s still July.
Air-conditioning is the almighty saviour. Yet not everyone has it. Those living in cooler regions of Northern Japan don’t usually experience these insane temperatures and thus haven’t seen the need for one until now. Meanwhile, only around 42% of public elementary and middle schools have air conditioning. I previously worked in schools that had no AC, and instead had a set of ineffective fans attempting to cool the students. Those particular schools insisted that as long as the students suffered from the heat, then the teachers would too. So the staff room’s air-conditioning wouldn’t be turned on until the students had left for the day. The reasoning may be economic and/or environmental, but there’s a distinct mindset in Japanese society to improve one’s moral resolve by enduring. In this case, blistering temperatures. But I’d rather they just install AC so students wouldn’t complain all the time.
Experts have warned that this could well be the “new normal” for the country. A truly terrifying thought for the future.
It’s gotten to the point where I have to write something about it. Talking at the urinals, is it a faux pas?
I have no issue with continuing a conversation with a friend or someone I really know, while taking a piss. Whether I’m drunk or livid about how the football match is going, I don’t have a problem. But for some, visiting the restroom is a hellish nightmare. Strangers unzipping and aiming, the foul stench from the stalls, the long line of people waiting and the crusty, bearded man making unwanted eye-contact. Every…bloody…time.
Anyway, at school it’s become a slightly awkward endeavour. Is it normal to greet someone while in the bathroom? Some teachers will say “Hello” or “Good Morning”. Other teachers will do a casual bow. And others will avoid eye-contact altogether. I wouldn’t say I go into a panic, but it’s an uncomfortable situation. Are they striking up a conversation? Are they simply saying “Hi”? Do I need to talk about something?
Unlike everything and everywhere in Japan, there are no signs on how to deal with this sort of situation. No FAQ or Troubleshooting sheet explaining the correct procedure. No anime character cheerfully demonstrating how to deal with a talkative stranger. It’s up to you on how to proceed. I know these teachers on a professional level, but I wouldn’t say I’m at that whole social, “converse while using the urinal” level. So I tend to follow what the other teacher does.
There’s one interaction that often makes me chuckle. Japan has a phrase “otsukaresama desu”, which loosely translates into “Thank you for your hard work/ effort”. We say it when we’ve finished work, when we’ve helped each out or after we’ve listening to some long-winded lecture. Now, in some cases teachers have said this to me in the bathroom. It’s obviously referring to work. But I can’t help but feel that it sort of fits with the act of using the toilet. “Thank you for your effort in correctly and efficiently urinating”.