|RANT 'N' RAVE
Illustration by Dot
The cultural differences between East and
West are manifold, and given my humble experience I don't purport to have come across the
smallest percentage of these fundamental differences. But, on occasion, I am reminded of
my cultural heritage when I cringe at the sound of a hearty glob being coughed up in
This practice seems to know no boundaries, and is accepted in public everywhere by
everyone in Japan. These hacking pulsations filled my morning recently as a Tokyo business
gent slumped down beside me on my way to work. He must have drawn more than ten bite size
chunks from his lower lungs during my thirty minute journey. My disgust unfortunately did
not outweigh my feeling of cultural responsibility (and the importance of maintaining a
respect for otherness), so I sat there next to him attempting to flinch and wriggle as
little as possible - hoping that the next stop would see him gone. But the stops came and
went, and still with the precision of a martial artist this phlegm fountain of a man
continued his morning arias until I reached my stop.
In the same week I witnessed an elderly man at the swimming pool and a young schoolgirl
commit the same gaffe. He leaned back repeatedly, making a loud public attempt to raise
phlegm from the bubbling cauldron of his aged breathing apparatus. Then, I watched a
seemingly coy young schoolgirl in a prim, freshly pressed uniform produce a large green
sparkling exemplar of a globule on a Tokyo sidewalk.
Why is it that while spitting is considered part and parcel of everyday life, blowing
one's nose is viewed with such disdain? The other day I blew my nose on the train and the
people beside me just stood up and walked away in disgust! In fact they are probably
writing something similar to the above for a Japanese magazine.
But back to the phlegm problem. Is this attractive to the opposite sex for Japanese? Is
this a kind of test of virility, a mating ritual or some kind of status symbol? Perhaps
I'll get the hang of it and find myself practicing in my spare time, smoking a pack a day
and eating several times the recommended daily allowance of dairy products in an attempt
to master the art of sputum conjuring. I mean when I first arrived I was horrified by the
noodle slurping fiascoes at the stand-up bars, and now I find myself perfectly composed,
sucking down my ramen like a freshly serviced vacuum.
Many thanks to reader John Harris for this Rant.