Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes – Thoreau

I had warned you all before that one of the reasons I hadn’t started a blog sooner was because I didn’t think you all wanted to hear me ranting. Well, today you get a rant.

From the title of this post you can likely tell that this post has something to do with 1. my job, and 2. clothing. It also has to do with temperature control.

Yes – it is officially summer in Japan, and it’s HOT! I know, I know. All you people in Saskatoon are in the midst of a flooding river and a heat wave. Now you know how I feel!!! One difference – those of you lucky enough to be self-employed (ah, those were the days!) can wear weather appropriate clothing, and those of you working in offices likely have air conditioning. I am working in an office where I cannot wear weather-appropriate clothing and, while the air conditioning units are in place, they have not been turned on.

Okay, that was a slight untruth. They were turned on for one whole hour on Wednesday over the lunch hour. And then they were turned off. I asked around the staff room what was going on, and there were vague mutterings about “the office downstairs.”

And now, for our architectural part of the program:

I work at one of the newest senior high schools in Kitkayushu city. The Governor of Fukuoka Prefecture graduated from the school so chipped in just a wee bit of funding to rebuild the building. It’s a lovely building. Really! It has nice wood floors, a gorgeous tea ceremony room, funky curved blackboards, a state-of-the-art AV room, etc. But it is a building built in Japan and so certain things (like insulation) have been left out of the plans.

I have heard that insulation is not used in Japan because it rots in the walls because it is so so humid here. I really wouldn’t doubt it, but you’d think with the amazing technological innovations Japan has made they would have figured out how to build buildings with insulating value. Ed has ranted about the winter with the lack of insulation, and you, my dear lucky reader, get to hear me rant about the summer!

Ok – it’s hot. I’m sitting at home typing this and that’s not a lot of moving, and I’m sweating…a lot. Next to me I have a fan going, and I also have a “sweat rag” (basically a funky facecloth – today’s choice being “Kaonashi” from “Spirited Away”) to wipe the sweat from my eyes. Oh yes, we do have an air conditioner at home, but even though we had it on earlier, set at a cooling 30C, we turned it off because of the nightly 8pm wave of smog that blows through. The smog should be gone by 9:30pm, at which point it’ll be cool enough to open the windows. Cool enough as in 28C.

But I digress. More importantly, I digress from the title of this post. I wish I had read this Thoreau quote before I knew what I what I was getting myself into working in the Japanese school system. (And no, for those who read my previous post about what I was reading, I haven’t finished “Walden” yet.) For those of you who don’t know me well, suffice it to say I made myself a promise long ago that I would never take a job where I couldn’t dress like myself. I have broken that promise, in spades!

I wear a suit to ceremonies, I wear knee-length socks with knee-length skirts, I wear blouses, I wear a padded bra with underwire, I wear shirts long enough that if I bend over my waist won’t peek out, I wear pants and skirts with the waist high enough for the same reason. And when, with the humidex, the temperature in my non-air-conditioned office is about 38C, I do NOT wear a tank top. No, I wear sleeves. Short sleeves if I can. But sleeves.

Flashback to my first month in Japan:

It’s August, It’s hot, and the students are rehearsing for their sports festival. They are marching in military formation in the sandy school grounds. A few students are in the nurse’s tent being treated for combinations of sleep deprivation, dehydration, and exhaustion. All the teachers are sitting under a tent, in the heat, watching the North Korean Army-inspired show. I am wearing capri-length pants, a sleeveless top, over which I have a silk thin knit cardigan. I am sweating buckets. I have drank 3 bottles of tea in the past 2 hours. All the other female teachers are wearing long gloves and wide-brimmed hats so that they won’t taint their skin with a slight tan (sitting in the shade). I consider taking off my cardigan, but remember a female teacher asking me the week before, when I was wearing a v-neck, if my neck wasn’t cold. I drink more tea. I sweat more. I consider removing my cardigan again, but remember hearing that showing one’s shoulders is a no-no. More tea. More sweat. The cardigan is too much. I remember seeing a picture of the last foreign teacher at my school wearing a sleeveless shirt in the office. I remind myself that I am here to teach them about my culture. I remove the cardigan.

My male supervisor is sitting next to me and gasps. He tells me politely that sleeveless shirts are inappropriate for wearing at work. The female teachers turn to listen in on our conversation. I remind him that the previous foreign teacher wore sleeveless shirts and the response is that she was young and unmarried. I am taken aback, but not enough to put the cardigan back on. Students marching by turn and stare. I ask the female teachers what they think. They think it’s okay because we are not in the office, and it’s very hot, but that it would not be appropriate for the classroom. They make motions of writing on the board and covering their armpits. I am still taken aback by the “she was young and unmarried” comment. I ask about it. There is sucking of teeth (a sign of “I don’t know if I can talk about that – that’s a hard one”). They agree that I can keep the cardigan off, but that today is an exception, because it’s hot. The students stare. The male teachers stare. I sweat. I drink tea. I do not put the cardigan back on. I never wear a sleeveless shirt to work again.

Fast forward to today.

Today I wore a short sleeved shirt, a knee-length linen skirt, and my knee-length socks. Why the socks? Well, despite being an odd-for-the-Western-world fashion statement, they are the look of the young Japanese professional woman. That, and I am having a horrible eczema outbreak on my shins which I am sure no one wants to see. As soon as it’s gone (and I’m working on that – yay veggie juice!) the socks will go too.

Today everyone sweated buckets. I bought a 2-litre bottle of tea before work. I drank the whole thing, plus a juice box (yay veggie juice!) and a yogurt drink. And oh, there was that bowl of miso soup and cup of tea at lunch too.

Today, there was no air conditioner on in the office.

Tuesday, the air conditioners at Ed’s school were turned on.

Today was Friday.

Today. There was no air conditioner on in the office.

(Sorry, did I say that already? I think the heat is affecting my brain.)

Today I mentioned the air conditioner being turned on on Tuesday at Ed’s school to one of the English teachers. Her response was “Ii, na!” Which loosely translates as “Wow, they’re so lucky! I wish we had the same!” but is much shorter and way more nasal. She said that maybe it was hot in the office because of the way the building way built. I said that was likely. She said the people in the downstairs office were probably cooler. I said that they were, because I had been down there earlier. I also mentioned that they had fans. “Ii, na!” I said they should give us fans and that I was considering bringing one from home. She said they should just turn the air conditioners on. I agreed.

So none of us are happy at my school. I overheard her telling the head teacher of her grade that I had told her the air conditioners were on at Ed’s school. I heard the teacher in charge of my cleaning section tell the students that they were lucky they had the air conditioners on in their classrooms, because the teachers wouldn’t get theirs turned on until July first.

I do not understand. I think my brain must have melted.

Back to the clothes. The sleeves. The armpits.

I did not know that armpits were considered sexy. Ya – I can kind of understand the shoulder/cleavage thing a little. But armpits? I taught yoga for 6 years and showed countless people my armpits. I never thought that they were in the least alluring. Sexy armpits seems to be what the female teachers say is the reason to not wear sleeveless shirts. hmmmm. There is also a HUGE taboo against female teachers being seen as even slightly sexy in any way, shape, or form. I have seen female teachers from my school dressed in what I would not exactly call alluring, but definitely sleeveless, clothing, run and hide from our students if they see them in public. I didn’t understand this. But I got to experience it in person last weekend.

Last weekend we were headed to Kokura. It was hot. I was wearing a black tank top with burgundy stylized clouds screened on it. I suppose the scoop neck is a little low, but I wouldn’t think anything of it in Canada. It’s a LONG tank top, seeing how I bought it in Japan where one must not show one’s waist. I was wearing some long, baggy wrap-around shorts I bought in Thailand. My shins were a little red with eczema, but nothing like they are today.

We went to 7-11 to get some tea for our trip down and there were 4 boys from my school in the shop. This is a common enough occurrence, 7-11 being approximately 2 minutes away from the apartment and my school being 5 minutes away. When I see my students in 7-11 they say hello, I say hello back. It’s all good and friendly. Even if I’m in my non-teacher clothing. But not on this particular day. On this day I saw them. They saw me and would not make eye-contact. I thought this was a little strange, but went to the cooler to get some tea with Jarrod.

Ed had gone back to the apartment to get our sweat rags or something. He came into 7-11 and up to me and told me my students were checking me out. o? We paid for our tea. Still no eye contact. Red cheeks and ears, but no eye contact.

Now, I would not say I was dressed in an alluring manner. Casual, dressed for the weather, but not alluring. But obviously I was too sexy to make eye contact with. Or something.

So – we will have air conditioning all weekend. YAY! I will drink copious amounts of veggie juice and not wear knee-length black socks for 2 days and perhaps my eczema will clear up. YAY! I will wear sleeveless, and even (gasp!) spaghetti-strap tank tops while we are packing up our apartment. Ed will likely see a lot of my armpits. I don’t think they will distract him too much. I will go to 7-11 (though not in the spaghetti-straps) to buy Häagen Dazs Japanese Classic Parfaits. I may cause some students’ cheeks and ears to redden.

Okay – so I can’t wear anything that shows my armpits, but my female students can wear micro-miniskirts and cleavage-inducing tops while they are downtown. Double standard? I think that’s fodder for another post.

sweatingly yours, and promising herself to remember to be cautious about enterprises requiring new clothes,