Before moving to Japan I’d never dealt much with mold before. I knew that it grew on food if you let it sit long enough but other than that mold wasn’t really something I spent much time thinking about. Recently however, mold has become a major issue in my life. The thing is, that my apartment here in Tokyo seems to be a breeding ground for the stuff. Mold is everywhere. It’s in my shoes, it’s in my bathroom, it’s in my clothes, it’s on my curtains and it’s growing on my underwear (granted it’s just on that underwear that I’ve had since seventh grade that I only keep around for possible emergencies but I still feel disturbed about it). Anyway, the issue is that we have a lot of mold and it’s a problem. At this point I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if I should wake up one morning and find a patch of it sprouting from my forehead. I knew it was humid here but geez!
Considering that my reading level is equivalent to a 3-year old Japanese child, I can’t just walk into a supermarket like any normal person and buy something to combat mold. Some products (bug killer- picture of dead bug, bathtub cleaner- picture of gleaming tub, toilet paper- familiar product shape, etc) are fairly self-explanatory but others such as mold killer, are not. They haven’t really found a way yet to pictorially depict mold dying (thus no handy picture on the outside of the package) and if you’ve never bought it before, you don’t even know what sort of thing you’re supposed to be looking for; Is it a spray? A powder? Do you trap the mold somehow?? I decided to turn to my Japanese friend Yuki for help. She lives in the neighborhood, speaks some English, and is generally willing to help out with whatever little problem I may have. I figured that if I have mold, most other people here must have it too. What I mean is, I don’t think that I’m doing anything in particular to encourage the mold. After all, it’s not as though I wet down the house with a spray bottle every night before bed.
Yuki’s reaction to my plight was not what I expected. After about 10 minutes of explanation regarding exactly what I meant by “mold,” she looked at me in shock. It was as though I’d just told her that I enjoy hunting panda bears for sport. “You have mold???” she said in a whispered voice. “Ahhhh… I don’t really know solution for this problem…” After the shock wore off, the look deteriorated into one that was more a mixture of puzzlement, pity, and mild scandalization. A look I receive quite a bit over here in Japan. A look that I’m beginning to recognize as meaning “Ah yes, you are very ridiculous and simpleminded and also quite crude to have brought up such an sensitive issue but I’ll chalk it up to the fact that you’re a tasteless/clueless foreigner and let it slide.”
At this point I began to feel like maybe having mold wasn’t so common after all in Japan. I started to feel like maybe I really have been doing something in particular to encourage such rampant spore growth in my home. Something shameful… Or… I thought to myself, could it be that having mold in Japan is some sort of national secret- like having sex is in America? Something that everybody has but no one talks about? (Don’t ask how this connection formed in my mind- that’s not the issue at stake here). The point is, that fromYuki’s reaction to my seemingly mundane household problem, I was beginning to feel as though I’d just confessed the details of my sex life to my grandmother. “You have mold/sex?? (sharp intake of breath)” “You have mold/sex in your shower?” (audible gasp of scandalized reaction), “You have mold/sex on top of your washing machine?????!!!!!”
This notion isn’t so farfetched as you might think. This is a nation of very clean people. This is a nation of people who wear perfectly pressed white clothes that NEVER get stained. This is a nation that actually has a “National Take A Bath Day.” Maybe it really is shameful to admit to having mold…
On the other hand, when it comes to sex, the Japanese seem to have very little or no sense of embarrassment. It just seems to be assumed that everyone wants to do it and that everyone who can, does it. Premarital sex? No big deal. Sex in exchange for a Louis Vuitton handbag? No problem! Kinky sex? Sure! No sense in wasting time or energy expressing shock over the concept. As we all know, this is in rather direct opposition to the accepted American attitude towards sex which is more along the lines of- “Yes you can do it- but only some of you can do it and only with certain people at certain times in certain places, and only under certain circumstances and in certain ways for certain purposes. In the meantime, an appropriate level of shock, embarrassment, and/or bawdy vulgarity must be displayed whenever it is mentioned.”
Earlier in the week during a different conversation this very same Yuki had expressed an absolute lack of reaction when I’d mentioned my surprise over the man next to me on the train- the one who was salivating in plain view over a book of animated porn the size of a telephone directory.
Me: “And in this one picture…the um, girl looked about um, 10 years old and she was tied up in her own underwear!”
Yuki: (filing her fingernails) “Ho hum.. (or Japanese equivalent of) Do you want we go to Mr. Donut today for coffee or do you want eat a Chinese food?
Me: “And she was wearing one of those school uniforms and and and and, I think she was hanging from the ceiling with her own school uniform necktie!”
Yuki: (in blasé voice) “Yes. Many men in Japan are interested in tying young girls.”
And yes I do know that many men all over the world are interested in “tying young girls” but she said it was though she’d informed me that many men in Japan are “interested in playing golf.” Something tells me that if I had told Yuki that the man had a spot of mold growing on his shoe, well, her reaction would have been quite different.