The Return of the Flu Season

Last year, I nearly died, or at least I felt that way. My body was ravaged by a fever of 39ºC (sometimes rising to 41ºC) with a side of cold flashes, hot flashes, sweating, coughing, sneezing, runny nose, and aches. I went through five boxes of tissues, praying the whole way through the experience that God be merciful and cut off the blood supply to my entire face.

Needless to say, the flu is not fun. It’s a horrible experience. I was one of those unlucky people who got the Type A, which is the more severe influenza virus. The Type A virus causes the big spreads of flu from person to person (and sometimes even from person to animal). Type B is the typical crud virus that might take you out for a day but you’re fine come the next morning.

Recently, many students at my base school tested positive for Type A. The school immediately took full defensive measures and put on the white mouth masks. I wore one off and on throughout this season, but when my Vice Principal actually sat down to talk with me about the issue with an English dictionary I decided to make it a permanent fixture on my face for the near future.

It’s interesting how some Japanese customs are similar and different from American ones in terms of flu prevention. Both recommend washing your hands as often as possible. Every classroom at my school has hand sanitizer and students are encouraged to use it the most when they’re sick. Both also recommend not going outside into the cold. If it is necessary to go outside, bundle up. Wear a jack, scarf, and mittens. It’s winter, for Pete’s sake, quit exposing your legs!

Winter Idiocy

However, Japan and other Eastern countries put on the mouth masks for protection from illness Americans generally don’t unless we’ve got some kind of lung condition that makes it necessary. Japanese people do it for everything: colds, flus, viruses, you name it. If there’s something in the air, the white masks go on the face. It was strange walking around my town this week since everyone wore one. I felt like I was in the midst of the movie Contagion, and I feared for my body.

Check out the one dude who's being an individual.

The fashion for winter.

Japanese people also have this habit of chugging health drinks. Vitamin D is especially popular. When I went to my local 7 Eleven a few days ago, the place was sold out of them. In America, people generally take the medicine a doctor gives them and not much else. Maybe an American might pop a Centrum pill in with the pharmaceutical cocktail the doc gave them, but health drinks aren’t really a thing.

I’ve also been told repeatedly by my co-workers that I should gargle. Apparently, gargling and spitting out all the crud from your throat and mouth supposedly gets rid of a lot of germs. Most Americans I know don’t put much stock in this piece of advice, and to be honest no study I know shows that it does anything. Still, I’d say if you’ve got a sore throat, go ahead and gargle with some salt. It’s a nice old fashioned home remedy that both countries agree will help get rid of the soreness quickly.

And, of course, Japan recommends drinking copious amounts of tea. America loves to drink water for hydration when there’s a flu outbreak. Japanese people will thrust green tea at you if you sniffle. All my teachers recommend drinking tea with honey, especially honey harvested locally. I know of no bee farms near me, so I just use the grocery store’s stuff.

Personally, I’m doing my best to avoid the flu. I do not want a repeat of the nightmare from last year, I hope everyone else stays healthy as well out there in the germ riddled world.

After all, the flu is out there, waiting, plotting it’s next move to strike when we least expect it.

Thrice Damned Flu Season, Hokkaido, and Valentines Day

February was an exciting month for me. I planned on starting it off with this epic adventure to Hokkaido. I’d been excited about this trip for months. I paid for it in December,  and I was all kinds of happy. I was going to be around JET friends I don’t get to see very often, ski and/or snowboard, eat crab, buy a whole bunch of souvenirs, and take too many pictures.

However, a few days before my quest began, my body decided that  was the perfect time to catch the flu. I will admit, the first day I was in complete denial. I went to work, struggling the whole way through, but I could claim it was “just a cold.” The next day, I wanted somebody to shoot me in the face, but I still went to work. My teachers were looking at me like I was insane and there were some polite suggestions about taking ninkyuu and going home. However, I forced myself to keep going.

On Friday, I’m fairly certain I was close to dying. My temperature got over 38 C at one point and I vaguely recall thinking I needed to go to the hospital. Instead of doing that, I went to the clinic and waited patiently for the doctor. Sure enough, I tested positive for the flu. He gave me some inhaling medicine I’d never seen before, and told me to drink fluids and rest. When I got home, I wondered how I could possibly turn this around. I did everything I could possibly do. I drank tea like crazy, took a crazy mixture of medicine that also should’ve probably killed me, and slept for about eleven hours.

The next day, I felt bad, but not awful. I figured that was close enough and I got on board with the vacation plan again. I met a couple of friends at the bus station and we headed off to the airport. I slept on the bus and on the airplane so that I could feel less of a zombie by the time we landed in Hokkaido.

I was all kinds of happy when I saw the vast acres of snow. I was surprised to realize how much I had missed the cold, white stuff. I’m not really a big fan, but I guess in my head it’s just not winter if there’s no snow. I took so many pictures of the landscape.

It's just like the ink paintings!

We went to Niseko, a ski resort. We split into groups and stayed at two cabins that were drowning in snow. It was so cool! Ha, get it? Yeah, I suck at humor. Deal with it.

There were so many bugs...

On arrival day, people went off to go buy stuff at the grocery store. I stayed in reading the Hunger Games (By the way, it was a good read and I recommend it to you all). The next day was spent running around with my friend Jason at various shopping places and discovering an Irish Bar (that I never got to drink in, and I still regret it). I found myself a new pair of boots that are awesome. That night we ate Genghis Khan, a lamb barbeque dish.

We checked out in the morning to move onto Sapporo. I finally got around to skiing. I went ahead and bought two hours with a skiing instructor. It was my first time so I know I wasn’t very good. I fell three times and felt really freakin’ tired by the end of my session. However, my teacher, Gordie, told me that I caught on fast and next time just go. No more instruction needed. I felt proud of myself, but I wonder if he was just being nice.

Gigantic “One Piece” sculptures

After my session, it was time to hop on the bus to Sapporo. At Sapporo, I saw the Yuki Matsuri (Snow Festival, in English). Basically, it’s a huge event wherein people compete in a snow sculpting competition. These things can be huge!

There was a miniature size of this one around the corner.

And fantastic!

It’s a recreation of a temple done as an ice sculpture. They put lights in front and behind to create this effect with the ice.

I can’t remember if this was supposed to be Osaka Castle or the Emperor’s Castle, but I believe it was the later.

I really had a good time. However, by the end of it I was completely prepared to go back to Itako and get away from the snow. I can only take this stuff in small doses.

As luck would have it, the snow followed me home! Itako had its second snowfall for the winter when I got back. I grumbled about it, but I lived. Besides, it was time to work on Valentines Day! February 14th was just around the corner. I bought construction paper, pens, and stamps. I was determined to show my love and make a Valentines Day card for every single student at both of my schools.

By the time I was done with the Valentines Day cards, my hand hurt like hell, but I managed to complete my task. I made OVER 300 of those little things! I have vowed to never, ever pull this stunt ever again. Next time, I will buy them all or do something creative after I printed out the message. My hatred for the sight of red and pink has not wavered since that day.

The kids seemed to like them, but the boys kept shouting over and over again, “Why no choco?!” I explained, “That’s a Japanese tradition and I’m not Japanese.” Of course, that’s not entirely the reason. I kind of bought a lot of chocolates for them at Christmas time and that stuff was expensive. Also, I need special permission to bring in food to class. I just decided this time that I would just do cards, and maybe next year I’ll figure something out with my JTE and principal in advance.

I surprised the teachers at both my schools with small cards and Kit Kats. They seemed to like it, and now at random times I’ll find chocolates on my desk. It makes me so happy!

And that’s pretty much the big events of February. I’ll update again pretty soon.