The Guttural Fricative

To complain about the customs of your host country while holding up your own as the standard is an act of purest, supercilious idiocy; one cannot expect to enter into another culture and demand coherence to your own mores; a certain amount of compliance and tolerance is an absolute necessity. There is however one thing that I particularly dislike about Japanese etiquette, one thing that I would like changed more than anything else. I can learn to live with the busy trains, I can accept bad television by simply not watching it, I can deal with discrimination no matter how beneficial it is to me、 I can even tolerate the open-mouthed gum chewing that seems to be so popular over here, but the one thing I cannot stop myself turning up my nose to in the most snooty manner is the way the Japanese open their throats to let out anything that is bothering them regardless of who sees it or receives the brunt of it

According to the evidence Japanese people are not taught to cover their mouths when coughing. This results in common scenes of people visibly barking into the thin air at any location or occasion. It’s bad enough on the streets when, once, I walked past a guy at the precise moment he coughed, painting a tableau not entirely dissimilar to the image above. A stern look and a deadly aimed “tsk” didn’t faze the perpetrator in the slightest. Or there was the time I was waiting in line at my local favourite bread shop, the objects of my desire, lusciously cheese-filled potato bread pouches stacked on the counter, when the old geezer in front of me, in the middle of ordering, felt the need to let out a cough and cover said foodstuffs with a spray of spittle and disease. That day I bought cellophane wrapped sandwiches.
Nothing is more off-putting than sneaking a left-handed lecherous glance at that cute girl in the coffee shop just at the moment she barks into the air like a stricken chihuahua. One can feel the disease creeping nearer when there is a cold flu going round and your colleagues are liberally covering their monitors with a thin film of phlegm left and right of you.

Spitting too seems to be the prerogative of the old geezer. When walking the streets or sitting on my balcony to have a quiet cigarette one can often hear what at first sounds like a miniature car crash shortly followed by an evacuation and a wet splat. It’s not simply the freeing of some excess phlegm, they really put their heart and soul into it, hacking and scraping up all the goo they can muster, letting out not a drop of spittle but a veritable glob of mucus that explodes as it hits the pavement.

There are too many good things about Japan to let this ruin your stay, but in stead of the cute, but doomed to fail, train manner posters or the hilariously Engrish considerate smoking campaigns, maybe a course or two of hygiene etiquette and simple mouth-covering techniques could improve the living conditions and health of the massive Tokyo populace.

There, I said it. I feel better now. Sorry.


  1. lol sounds really nasty. I bet its a loogey fest in the winter time.

  2. Ugh, the time is *now*. The weather is turning cold and wet and the coughing reverberates through Tokyo city like gorillas in the mist.

  3. oh god and I'm a total germs freak.

    are the japanese people known for washing their hands after going to the bathroom or not?

  4. Oh yes, the Japanese are a quite proper and tidy folk! It's just game developers who don't wash their hands. The door to the toilets here looks like a Quake texture. Ugh.

  5. Wow. I completely agree with you. You'd think a country that wears facemasks after contracting a common cold would be more wary of carpet bombing people and things in their general vicinity with whatever germs they carry. But no. You'd be wrong if you assumed so. Sometimes it gets so bad that I think an old guy is going to cough up a lung on the stairs from the train station. Crazy.

    (Got the link from the Japan Blog Matsuri, again.) Cheers.