The Kurtz Syndrome

The Kurtz Syndrome is a condition which affects many long-term residents, causing them to go native like Kurtz in Apocalypse Now/The Heart of Darkness. Symptoms in Japan include excessive bowing, sushi addiction, and salariman-like tooth-sucking.
This week I had an experience that made me realize how much I’ve been affected by living here. I wore a cold mask for the first time in my life, so I guess there’s no denying I’ve become a Kurtz.
It started last year when I got sick with a cold and a  couple of Japanese coworkers started hinting that I should wear a mask at work. I always thought masks were rather ridiculous, mostly just a play for sympathy or a neurotic form of over-kind worry about others. When the WHO recommended that ordinary people not wear masks during the swine flu epidemic, I became even more-firmly convinced that masks were not necessary. Still, a big part of me felt really bad about doing something that was antagonizing my coworkers, who I really like.
Then this week, I caught another bug that was going around at work. It was a really nasty one, and a couple of my coworkers had really upset stomachs. I started thinking about my seven-month old son, and how awful it would be if he got really sick, so I decided it was time to put on a mask whenever I was around him.
The worst part was on Wednesday morning when I went out in public wearing the mask because I had to take my son to pre-school. I felt like a complete idiot, but thinking about how colds spread around at his pre-school, I decided that I really should wear the mask.
The thing that really worries me is that masks may be a very slippery slope. I imagine in a couple of years I’ll be wearing one of those N95 masks every time I get a sniffle. When I first came to Japan, I thought people who mixed in a lot of Japanese words when they were speaking English or were always bowing and bobbing their heads were being pretentious or were weak people who were too easily influenced by their surroundings. Now I know it can happen to anyone.

Nara Houses

Japan is well-known for its excellent public transportation system, but something I’ve been realizing recently is that if you want to see the really beautiful parts of the country, you need a car. Every time I head out into the Nara countryside, I’m amazed at how beautiful the old houses and countryside are. These houses are all in and around the city of Gojo.

Graffiti House on the “Tokyo Deep” blog

The Tokyo Deep Guide (Tokyo Deep Annai) is a Japanese blog whose mission is to introduce a side of Tokyo that you don’t read about in the tourist brochures. The blogger, Masayoshi Osaka, is an urban explorer who takes you to Korea Towns around Tokyo, goes on a stroll through the neighborhood where the Soka Gakkai headquarters is located,  visits Nakano Broadway or researches the backgrounds of various posters that are commonly seen around Tokyo.
The post that really caught my attention, though, was this report on a “graffiti house” in Ota Ward.
It’s called a “denpa jutaku” (literally ‘electric wave house’) in Japanese, and the blogger writes that “The term is used when the house’s owner  becomes captured by some obsession or compulsive idea and starts hanging a lot of notices covered with writing on the outer walls and area around his house, painting it in gaudy colors, or putting up multiple decorations threatening the neighbors, causing the house to look crazy.”
All photos courtesy of Tokyo Deep Annai.

He says, “It’s bizarre to look at. It’s covered in graffiti, and is covered in signs that look as if they’re to put up against some hateful activity, or are like a talisman.”

On the side of the house, there’s a message about “bakunage shonen,” which isn’t proper Japanese, but translates literally as “Bomb-throwing boys,” claiming that that their arson activities have been uncovered.

The owner seems deeply terrified of rock throwing children. The Japanese is rather incoherent, and rambles on about calling the police.

Apparently, the house still has graffiti on it, but has been toned down a little recently.

There is also an Osaka Deep Guide and a Japan Deep Guide.

Construction Worker Fashionistas

Traditional Japanese construction worker clothes are called tobi shouzoku. The men and women who put up Japan’s buildings have been getting a lot more fashionable recently if these catalogs from a clothing company in Okayama Prefecture called Kaseyama (site is Japanese only) are any indication.

Cherry blossoms!

The baggy pants are called nikka-pokka-. The reason that construction workers wear them is that the loose fit allows them to stretch their legs out comfortably when climbing around on buildings. Some construction workers also consider them to make their jobs safer. The baggy pants tend to get caught on things, making them more careful when they are working in high places.

All these clothes are being modeled by real construction workers, and I read that you can see these clothes on construction sites, but it’s kind of hard to imagine. If anyone out there has a picture of someone wearing this kind of stuff on the job, I’d love to see it.

Regular tobu shouzoku run around 6,000-8,000 for the pants and 4,000 to 7,000 yen for the tops, but these high fashion ones seem to be around 30,000 or more.