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Lyrical Phlegm

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 public.

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.

Metropolis Online
349: Life in the cycle lane
Playing chicken with a ladybike
348: Daisuki na Tokyo
Tokyo's my favorite!
347: Nihongo dake!
Why am I not fluent in Japanese yet?
346: People make the city
The beauty of Tokyo's people
345: Cross Training
Commuting by train in Tokyo
344: Yellow Line Fever
A guide for the blind... and a pain in the neck
343: Welcome to Tokyo
What did you bring me?
342: Positive thinking
Three reasons why we love Japan
341: I'm a rounder...
Veterans of Japan vs. Japan rookies
340: Discard your bank cards
The labour of replacing lost bank cards
339: Shoganai...
It can't be helped
338: Respect your environment
Poluution problem in Tokyo
337: Strike Three - You're Enlightened
How omiyage ruins a vacation
336: Missing manners
No manners outside of Japan
335: Goodbye jitensha
Is stealing bikes a popular pastime in Japan?
334: War of the Words
English borrows from other languages too!
333: ENGLISH ONLY, please
Don't bother writing your name in Japanese
332: A menu carved in stone
No special requests for lunch!
331: The Zen of Looking Busy
The art behind faking work
330: Lyrical Phlegm
Japan's spitting dilemma
329: Rock harder, Japan
Big, bad and ugly concerts
328: Noise Deficiency
The unrelenting quiet that is not Japan
327: Chopstick Diplomat
Constant questioning = constant answering
326: Game over
Cutting off the game for regular scheduled program
325: Grown pains
The hooligan behavior of middle-aged salarymen
324: The Price of Fame
Young teen actors light up on-screen
323: A Customary Affair
The universal language of consumerism
322: Robber barons
JR steals from the rich.. and the poor
321: Tegami Or Not Tegami
Deny the letter to save money
320: The Garbage Men
Variations of the "salaryman"
319: Holidaze
Japan - Home of the lamest holidays in the world
318: Box your ears
Be the karaoke star you've always dreamed of
317: The winter of my discontent
No oden if it's spring please!
316: The Bells
Going insane from bells and voices
315: The Big Tokyo Trash Mystery
No garbage cans + too much garbage= a clean city?
314: The Kamikaze Spirit
The war may be over but the spirit lives on
313: Movie Mania
Laughing alone in the corner
312: Geek parade
What's going on with gaijin men?
311: Gleaming gomi
Rinse it out before you throw it out
310: Lower Mathematics
Teaching practical mathematical equations
309: Escalator clots
Blocking the flow of escalator traffic
308: Sky's the limit
Favorite channel on the hit list
307: Bring on the studmuffins
Thanks to the "Men looking for women"
306: Burning Rubber
Narrowly averting bicycle collisions
305: Fishy Business
The sushi wasn't dead
304: The Invisible Gaijin
When gaijins collide
303: Talk work only
The Japanese perception of idleness
302: From kotatsu, with love
A blanket covered electric coffee table
300: Why 2K?
The millennium bug ain't no big deal

ISSUES 350-381
ISSUES 250-299

ISSUES 233-249