Scooter vs Japan

I’m not sick, and I’m not going home! | December 4, 2015

I’m a bit under the weather right now. Literally. It’s been snowing again, and everything around me is covered in 3 feet of snow.

But I’m also feeling sick.

maskJapan. Even the face masks are robots.

Lately, I’ve been waking up with a really sore throat and having trouble breathing. I’ve also been getting migraines again (unrelated, but more proof that I am actually 100 years old). Before you lose your mind or tell me to consult a mortician, I should note that I’m asthmatic, so this is basically Wednesday for me. Not breathing is probably my most notable skill, beating out most of my hobbies and my mad karaoke skills.

Being sick in Japan

So there’s this hilarious past time in Japan, where sick people go to work anyways. Screw personal health. This bugs a lot of foreigners, who lash out at this Sniffling, Sneezing, Coughing, Aching, Stuffyhead, Fever, So-You-Can-Keep-Working attitude because they are infecting everyone around them.

But there are a few reasons for this. Aside from the whole “working yourself to death” thing that we all love about Japan, taking a sick day is a very strange thing in Japan. Between perhaps not actually having sick leave to the need to save face and champ through it, Japanese people can be pretty stubborn when it comes to this. It seems like it is more important to show up than it actually is to do something, so showing up to work with a broken femur and internal bleeding gets you some sick participation points.

Why is everything so damn bright?!


A migraine, not my Professor Xavier impression.

Let’s start with the migraines. I had a string of migraines a few weeks ago (still do, but it’s manageable again). For those who haven’t experienced the joy and serenity a migraine, imagine a toddler doing a drum solo on your pots during a marathon race right outside your door with flood lights pouring in through your windows, all while nursing the worst hangover you’ve had since that party where tried to make love to the hallway plant (man, that plant was attractive). And my migraines aren’t even that bad; I hear some people even get nauseous and physically sick.

So anyways, I’m sitting my my office with the brightness of my laptop turned to “off,” able to hear the colors of the wallpaper, and trying not to die. But I only had an hour left, so hey, party on. One of the office staff told me, when I tried to explain to her what was happening, that I should immediately leave and go to the hospital.

You know, a full out nuclear strike being Japan’s first and only response to… anything. I’m like “no, it’s just a migraine. I’ll buy some ibuprofen after work.” But not. That’s not good enough. Word spreads, and I have about 6 people trying to shove me out the door, telling me I should go to the hospital. After getting the point across that I was not going to the hospital over a migraine, they shifted focus and just told me to go home.

This pretty much continued for the next hour, including a phone call to my predecessor, C, who then called me from his work and told me that I should go home (for fear that there was a language barrier here, and “go home” and “no” weren’t clear enough). Anyways, I dug in and refused to leave, since by this point, there was only about 15 minutes left anyways.

Following work, I drove to the drug store, bought some ibuprofen, hated life a little while as I drove home, then started eating the ibuprofen like candy. Oh yeah. Medicine in Japan is bullshit. I usually take 400mg once or twice a day for a migraine. Good ol’ Japan only seems to carry 100 or 150mg dosages, complete with the pharmacist telling me to only take 3 in one day.

My Probably Lung Infection

This time, I’ve had the foresight to not say anything, since normal people would in fact go to the hospital over respiratory problems. But not an asthmatic. Well, that’s not true. I actually did go to the hospital over this… in Canada. See, I’ve been having this kind of breathing problems for quite a while now. I was getting regular treatment and was seeing a lung specialist for over a year. Things stabilized to the point where I could put on pants without having to rest, and we all high-fived.


Man, math is exhausting.

But then I came to Japan and fell off the wagon. Because screw oxygen. Who needs that anyways. As I usually do (much to the disapproval of my doctors), I hate taking a preventative inhaler every day, so I kinda sorta stopped. Not, like, kids hate having to eat there vegetables. I don’t like taking it because it’s a powerful steroid with a very high daily dosage. It’s also expensive as fuck, costing about $100 per month, based on my prescription.

So here I am, getting winded simply from waking up. And I’m like “screw this. Going to work.” I’ve started taking my inhaler again, hoping to try and get ahead of this, but I feel like crap in the meantime.

I think I’m turning Japanese


I wanna believe that I’ve made this joke before.

So a logical human being would stay home, go to the hospital, or consider a last rite. But since I’m been fighting this particular dragon my whole life, not being able to breathe registers with some concern, but usually less concern than a tiny bird flying around the same room I’m in in a panic. Fuck that bird. That was terrifying. I think I peed myself.

No. I just keep trucking on, doubling over when no one’s looking like I have a 12 pack a day habit, and pretending that I’m not dying.

Why the hell am I doing this? Well, aside from not thinking it’s a big deal, I don’t particularly want this to be a big deal. To go to the hospital or take some sick time would mean that there is a serious problem. It would upset everyone at work, screw with everyone, and take the English speaker out of the classroom.

There’s also nothing to be gained from taking time off. Let’s say this were a lung infection (which it isn’t. It god damn isn’t). As an asthmatic, this isn’t something I’d be able to shake with just face mask and some rice porridge. Any illness this rotting bag of meat catches tends to stick around for ever, and taking time off for a lung infection would quickly amount to a month. Taking one day off really isn’t going to have any effect.

So just like a Japanese person, I’ve come to work with what other people would immediately identify as an illness and just kept working.


Err… the other kind of… No. This is what Japanese salary men look like.

And you know what? I kind of get why they do it. It’s such a hassle to be such a selfish diva and take time off. The burden I’d place on everyone, the hassle I will get for it later, the approximately 3800 Japanese people stopping me in the grocery store every day to see if I’m feeling better. I don’t need that. It’s charming and sweet, but I really don’t need that in my life.

I mean, I wrapped my finger in tape because it hurts a little when I bend it (I’m just being a baby about that one), and I had about 8 students ask me first thing in the morning if I was ok. Imagine what would happen if I went to the hospital for breathing problems.

Nope. Not happening. Just gotta nut up and keep going, just like a Japanese person. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna lie down for a minute. Typing is surprisingly exhausting. I just need to catch my breath.


Posted in Living

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About author

Scooter is an ESL teacher and Japanese anthropologist. He hopes to document his thoughts of living in Japan, continued cultural studies, and to provide advice for others looking to hop the pond.







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