Friday, December 05, 2008


NEOGAMBARU


When I first came to Japan nearly 40 years ago I was impressed that Japanese of all ages were such a hardy bunch of folks in any situation, just having come through the devastation of war, and with their traditional lack of central heating and their uninsulated houses (I used to wake up on Tokyo winter mornings beside little snow drifts that had blown through the cracks between the thin boards of my house). The grammar school boys back then used to go to school in the iciest weather wearing thin jackets and short-shorts. Wow, are they going to be hardy when they grow up, I used to think.

In the broil of those summers as well, everyone bore up without complaint in their unairconditioned, sweltering, breezeless big-city cheek-to-jowl neighborhoods. They simply adjusted, as they always had, in the bushido way, to whatever conditions came along; old pictures of Japanese standing around in the snow in their shin-high kimonos and straw sandals come to mind. Gambaru was the word.

But since then things have changed in unexpected ways. These winter days, when I head for the office in the Big City I am sanely dressed for motorcycling down an icy winter mountain road and waiting on a blizzardy train platform, then a walk though blustery city streets to the office, where it is so hot you could grow orchids. This is an institutional example of what I call neogambaru, in which one pays to suffer, in this case via artificial discomfort achieved through high heating bills. (Another retroexample is to pay for and consume junk food by which one's health deteriorates.)

Then after a confusing seasonal retrotransition we segue into the summer version of neogambaru, when I come in dressed for an afternoon on Waikiki and after the train you could chip ice off my shoulders, then you could break icicles off my desk. Everyone has shawls over their shoulders and blankets over their knees, the modern, expensive version of standing out in the snow in kimono and straw sandals. Paid for in the form of airconditioning bills. (Another retroexample is paying for exercise to offset the atrophying effects of offices.)

I'm not proposing that everyone return to kimono and straw sandals in the snow as a way of life, or give up artificial exercise as a way of counterbalancing some of the patent shortcomings of current living. I'm aware that we must progress, we must improve our lot, elevate our situation, raise our comfort level I guess, and even go mad now and then if we want; but this much? Do we have to be winter orchids, for godsake? Or summer popsicles?

Excuse me while I undress for the office winter tropics, and explain to you my simple compound solution. Henceforth, let's just decree that summer is winter indoors, and that winter is summer indoors! Sort of a seasonal savings time. That way, we'll all be able to stay suitably dressed for the occasion, and not feel insane. Hawaiian shirts in winter, down anoraks in summer: that should be easy to remember.

I've also devised a groundbreaking program by which, for a modest fee of 2000 yen per hour, anyone can come to my house and split and stack firewood for as many hours as they like, to ward off the chills of popsicality and melt away the lassitudinal layers of orchidity. Monthly rates available.

7 comments:

Tabor said...

I remember returning to Hawaii after a decade or so and freezing inside the stores in my shorts and top. This was something new, as they used to keep the doors open and the outside was the same as the inside.

Maggie said...

Gee, this seems to be a common malady here too. My husband cooks in winter and freezes in summer while I hide in a non air conditioned not heated condo.

vegetablej said...

Oh, so right!

It might be a bit more for me to chop your wood, since I'd have to cross the Pacific (and Canada) to do it. But, oh you fellas, (you and Mark Twain) make it sound so tempting.

:)

Bob Brady said...

And of course I have special rates for blog friends...

ShortWoman said...

I don't suppose that your modest fee includes airfare? =)

Bob Brady said...

With hyperinflation coming, we may be able to get some kind of govt subsidy to encourage firewood tourism...

dianeinjapan said...

Snow drifts in the cracks?! Okay, I'm going to stop complaining...