Something stuck me as weird as I talked to all my coworkers this week.
There’s this universal perception that the weather is both hot and humid. Almost excruciatingly so. And there’s this similarly universal opinion that heat makes people extremely tired- enough to make them pass out at their desks right after working.
So, as a foreiger hearing the constant complaints and seeing the pained expressions of teachers furiously waving a fan in their faces, I have a hard time understanding why they’re not turning on the air conditioner units positioned directly above our heads.
Everyone’s wearing the thinnest of materials and still sporting a layer of sweat that makes them look like they just finished a triathalon. They may have only been sitting at their desks, but damn if they don’t look like it.
The ones who aren’t sweating and awake are sweating and sleeping. They’re passed out face down on their desks, or closing their eyes with their head in their hands. Sleep seems like the only peaceful respite from the 32 degree celsius weather, even if it’s during work hours. If they’re not asleep, they’re complaining about the insane, relentless heat.
And still, there’s air conditioners mere feet away.
So the solution to the heat? Our school purchased about 40 fans to strategically place around the school, plugging them into every socket our school had installed since its construction in the 1970’s, and they let them oscillate. Of course, this is one tiny room fan trying to cool a room the size of a garage, so you can imagine the effectiveness. So they also slide open the windows and classroom doors. Now papers on the blackboard, kids’ papers, book pages, and anything not stapled down gets blown around like a tornado. The little fan installed in the room blows its petty gust through the room, being easily overpowered by the opened windows.
One begins to ask, if there’s open windows, why they even spent the $40-ish per fan (plus installation, plus power, etc.).
Sadly, the classrooms cannot boast having an air conditioner conveniently positioned above the desks. But the kids, smaller and younger they may be, are coated in their own layer of sweat. Their hair sticks together in bunches at the ends from the sweat oil they amassed trying to walk up 3 flights of stairs from their computer science class in the lab, and they’ll sweat even more as they walk around doing classroom activities. Some kids give in and just pass out. Some sit there and tough it out. Nobody looks happy. Everyone looks like they’re ready to die. Everyone complains about the heat.
This is the first week of actual heat. It will only go up from here, getting warmer and dryer, until we eventually reach 34-36 degrees celsius mid-summer. And by then you’d better believe half the school will be passed out and visiting the hospital. Especially the poor teachers and students forced to continue sports outside for hours in said blazing heat.
All the while, the constantly-off air conditioner taunts us, sitting there in its lazy, unused, sloth-like state. Almost taunting everyone in the room looking like they’re three inches from heat-related death.
I sometimes wonder what the Japanese are thinking when they decide to tough out the heat. There’s some businesses and schools that’ve made the seemingly unthinkable first-world jump from open windows and fans to air conditioners and smartly-constructed buildings insulated to contain coolness, but they’re about as prevalent as Rolls Royces in third-world countries. For the rest of the country, they’re putting up with heat issues America eliminated in the early 80’s.
They argue that they’re being “eco” with keeping the air conditioning off. They’re conserving energy (an especially popular topic post-Tohoku earthquake/tsunami)! They’re cutting down on energy bills! They’re protecting the age-old Japanese cultural aspect of stoicness and withstanding the unbearable.
Then you look around and see everyone investing in commercial solutions to the problem. It’s almost silly. You’d think there’s lobbyists for towel-makers, drink vendors, paper fan factories, and Uniqlo in Parliament. Everyone’s got 3 sweat towels, everyone peddles O~i Ocha and Aquarius to their kids to combat the heat exhaustion, there’s more fans per square meter than people, and everyone’s got their quick-dry Cool Biz on.
There’s even more oddness. You can see teachers sleeping in every corner of the office. Instead of paying bills to keep the school air-conditioned and high-energy, they’re paying teachers to sleep for hours at a time at their desks. It’s like down periods are government-sanctioned naptime, as these teachers are snoring away or face-first on their desk as high-level elderly officials walk in observing the school and office. Of course these teachers will be around the office until 7PM regardless, but that’s beside the point. They’re living in misery, then working late. A pretty crappy situation if you ask me.
The only reliable defense left is they’re trying to maintain the stoic, put-up-with-horrendous-shit tenet of Japanese culture. But we’re a modern world, and there are modern solutions. Much like how they continue to install in-ground toilets when the rest of Asia (S. Korea particularly) is quickly abolishing them due to the strain on elderly peoples’ knees and difficulty of use, or stamping 10,000 printouts by hand (and realizing on the 9,999th sheet they picked the wrong date, then going over each paper with white-out strips and re-stamping it all again) when there’s a 5,000Y machine in a teachers’ catalog who could do the job in 20 minutes, there’s a bit of insanity in the system here. There’s easy, efficient, life-improving solutions within grasp. But because of some strange logic or pride, they forego the best solution and stick with a horribly inefficient, painful, and ultimately dangerous solution.
This wouldn’t really deserve an article if it was just people QQing (complaining) about some heat. Yeah, it might deserve a little quip on Twitter, but this is just the beginning of a long string of bad events to come. Now begins the 4-month period where kids will be passing out daily, getting rushed to the hospital. Now begins the dehydration emergencies, as kids forget their water and end up passing out. Now begins the drop in classroom motivation and attitudes, as the heat sucks out every last ounce of “giving a crap” these kids have when it comes to exerting themselves. This pretty much mirrors itself in the adult teachers, but they’re at least able to escape school to buy liquids and call it quits when they’re uncomfy.
I write this article with Japanese people saying “It’s so hot!” around me in almost a strange sort of chorus. The chorus comes every 10 words I type. And there’s a big, tempting air conditioning unit not 10 feet away.
I don’t get it. And the worst part? I’m afraid that if I do get an explanation, it’ll send me plunging into Phase 2. So I’ll just sit here in my blissful gaijin ignorance. It’s probably for the best.
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