Monday, June 20, 2011

Being sick in Japan is big in Japan

With apologies for the corny title, I'm talking illness today because my household is currently suffering through our worst winter plague since ... well ever, probably, since we now have a small boy who is very generous about spreading germs around left, right and centre. Since all I can think about is being sick and miserable, I thought I'd share one of my travel illness highlights: chicken pox.

Not everybody who's taught English in Japan knows the Japanese word for chicken pox, but I do: mizubousou. Not everybody who's taught English in Japan has gone to work with chicken pox, either, but I did, mostly because I'm stupid, and also because the day it dawned on me that the flu (with strange scabs) was actually chicken pox coincided with my very last day of work in Japan ever, and I didn't want to miss the enormous farewell party my students were throwing me.

Spot the chicken pox ... sorry Maki! Hope you didn't get sick
Interestingly, my experience working in Japan suggested to me that it's a relatively normal thing to go to work ill. Japanese people are polite and gracious but they're also very, very hard-working. Our company had a strong disincentive for employees to call in sick - we wouldn't get paid for that day, plus we'd pay a penalty - and anyone who tried to call in sick had to endure a conversation where the administration tried to talk them out of it. I guess that's why it didn't occur to me that it was slightly insane to work with chicken pox.

So work I did, under an extra layer of make-up so as not to freak out my students (they didn't care), and with the requirement that staff asked my students first whether or not they still wanted to take my lessons (they all did). Then we partied. I think the adrenalin buzz of finishing up at the school, getting tonnes of presents, and having a great farewell party probably got me through the sickest day of chicken pox without feeling too bad. I did sleep for a full day after that though!

What's your experience of being sick in a foreign country? Share and commiserate below!


  1. That´s hilarious Amanda. Poor Japanese people not able to take sick leave without a pay cut! Maybe the rest of the world should have a similar approach, a lot less "fake sickness" would ensue.
    I hope you didn´t infect the whole

  2. Very true, definitely no "sickies" being taken in Japan! I didn't hear of anyone catching chicken pox from me - in fact although I wasn't allowed to teach my kids' classes that day, the parents wanted me to because they actually wanted to get their kids infected (better younger rather than older, they said)!

  3. Poor Amanda going to work with chicken pox! You are very diligent. (^.^) About two weeks ago, I was really sick all night from flu-like symptoms, throwing up and whatnot -- and I still went into work the next morning without even considering staying home. Ahh, the Asian work ethic gets to everyone here sooner or later.

  4. Ha ha thanks Melanie, I think I was stupid rather than diligent. Might also be genetic - my dad went something like 41 years without taking a sick day. But it sounds like you are just as bad!


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