Summer is officially in full swing here in Kumamoto, Japan, the armpit of Asia. Well, perhaps not the armpit of the whole of Asia—that honor belongs to another country, I believe—but it’s definitely a close second! As summers go, this one has been rather pleasant thus far: scintillating sunshine and lusciously blue skies are plentiful, temperatures are soaring, and clothing is growing skimpier by the minute, as young, overly-tanned people take to the streets in record numbers.

This trio of summer goodness—free skin flick, blue skies and warm weather—comes at a price, however: in L.A. it’s smog, in Japan it’s humidity. A great deal of humidity, to be honest; easily reaching upwards of 95%. We’re talking the kind of humidity that demands no less than two showers per day, sometimes three, depending on the day’s activities, just to remain on the lower end of the freshness scale. For yours truly, this is an especially unfortunate circumstance, as my only method of transportation to and from my various schools is a charcoal-colored, 12-speed mountain bike.

Every morning I arrive to school with more sweat dripping from my forehead (not to mention the rest of my body) than Dick Cheney at a joint feminist/gun control rally. I’ll spare you the gory details, but I usually have sweat secreting from places that I didn’t even realize were capable of sweating!

I know what you’re thinking: Ellison, surely this stream of sweat must cease to flow once you enter the staff room; surely they have air-conditioning. You are living in Japan, afterall, one of the most technologically advanced countries in the developed world. Well, yes and no. Yes, buildings in Japan do have air-conditioning, but by law, most publicly funded institutions (including schools) are not allowed to use them unless the temperature reaches 30 degrees Celsius (about 86 degrees Fahrenheit). Apparently, the Japanese (unlike my freedom-loving, Apocalypse-a-waitin’ countrymen) are actually committed to combating global warming, even if it entails sacrificing a bit of personal comfort. Japan is, just in case you were wondering, the most energy efficient country in the world, which is why they can build cars that average more than two miles per gallon. Of course, I could be speaking utter bullocks, and it could simply be the case that the Japanese love pain and suffering, and revel in the masochistic pleasure of wilting in the wet, frothy heat of the summer, but somehow I doubt it. Although I did notice one of the gym teachers wearing a leather girdle the other day…but I digress!

So no air-conditioning unless the mercury hits that magical 30 degree mark. That’s great, just freaking great! Can you imagine how painful it is to sit in an office packed with 25 to 30 warm bodies, especially after having just ridden a bike for 15 minutes in the morning sun? What’s that you say? Why don’t I just ask them to turn on the air-conditioning if I’m so bloody hot? Because, you dolt, the rule says only turn it on when the temperature reaches 30 degrees. And in Japan, unlike in our “barbaric” countries, people follow the rules…to the letter. Here’s how such a conversation would pan out should I actually demand my human right to work in an air-conditioned office:

Me: Kyoto-sensei (Vice principal), it’s incredibly hot in the staff room, can we turn on the air-conditioner?

Kyoto-sensei: No.

Me: Why not?

Kyoto-sensei: Because it’s not 30 degrees.

Me: But it’s 29 degrees, and I’m hot and sweating. And all the other teachers are sweating. And they’re walking around muttering to one other, “It’s hot, isn’t it? Yep, it sure is!” So can we turn it on? Pleeeease?!

Kyoto-sensei: No. We can’t break the rules. It’s what makes Japan a country of anzen and anshin (safety and tranquility), and I’ll not have this centuries-old tradition of absolute obedience shattered by a so-called English teacher such as yourself. Now begone!

At this point I would slink back to my desk, head hung low, a river of sweat (or tears) flowing gently in my wake. The teachers would continue to complain about the sweltering staff room without actually doing anything to change it. At least the classrooms, the very laboratories where we ALTs bestow the mysteries of the English language unto our unwitting students, at least those are air-conditioned, right? Think again, dear reader, think again. The Japanese junior high school classroom is about as air-conditioned as the inner recesses of a boar’s ass, and emanates an odor twice as foul.

By now, you’ve probably come to the realization that the Japanese summer is a rather magnanimous beast, doling out treat after delightful treat from its treasure trove of natural bounties. Chief among these baubles, cherished more than blue skies or the golden sunshine, and more likely to cause a stir than the playful jiggle of an young woman’s exposed buttox, is a gift known to the locals as mushi. Mushi, for those of you tuning in from the English-speaking world, is Japanese for ‘bug’ or ‘insect’. (That’s ‘varmit’ for those of you tuning in from Tennessee)

In Japan, mushi come in two variety: large and gigantic. It’s not uncommon to see butterflies the size of a small bird, whose multi-colored wings you can actually hear flapping in the wind. Take a moment to let that image sink in. Spiders, too, are freakishly large, and easily grow to the size of a man’s hand. Fortunately for those of us stupid enough to actually touch one, they are supposedly not poisonous. And then there is the Japanese cockroach. Roaches, no matter what country you’re in, are inherently gross, disgusting, and in need of immediate eradication using either the nearest can of bug spray, or the sole of a shoe. Preferably someone else’s shoe. Ah, but Japanese cockroaches are smart little buggers, and over time have somehow—call it evolution if you’re intelligent; call it intelligent design if you went to “Bible College”—developed the ability to fly. Yes, fly. Roaches. Flying. Welcome to hell. And not only do they fly, but they’re also frighteningly large, even by American standards.

I once found a two-headed cockroach crawling into my apartment from the wild jungles of Kagami. I screamed, naturally, and immediately sprang into fight-or-flight mode. He was big and ugly, and had two heads (one on either end of his body), but I wasn’t about to surrender my apartment to some creature which had clearly been spawned in one of the seven pits of Hell. As luck would have it, I was fresh out of bug spray. And if I bludgeoned it with one of my shoes, I would surely have to throw it away afterwards, for the acid no-doubt housed within the creature’s belly would have eaten right through the Chinese craftsmanship. And then it hit me—containment! That was my best option. I grabbed a shoe box sitting on the kitchen table, and then slammed it on the floor, trapping the beast within. It hissed at me, slamming its heads into the cardboard, trying desperately to break free of its prison, but to no avail.

My victory proved short-lived, however. I realized I would never be safe as long as there was breath in his dark, scaly body, temporarily contained though he might be. I had to extricate him from my apartment—and fast! If I lifted the shoe box, though, he would surely make a dash for the nearest crack or crevice, escaping the one-way trip back to Hell I had planned for him. But I couldn’t bring myself to fatally damage my shoes in the process.  The proverbial rock and a hard place, no?

In the end, in a rare show of clemency, I decided to release him back into the wild. It couldn’t have been an easy life for him, having two heads and all. I’m sure all the other cockroaches ridiculed him and slapped him with their antennae. No, the compassionate thing to do—insofar as one can be compassionate to a cockroach— was to release him so that he might terrorize someone else with his hideousness.

That night a scream punctured the quiet of the sleepy town of Kagami. It sounded as though it came from my neighbor’s apartment. A small shudder wracked my body, then subsided as a devilish smile spread across my sleeping face. There’s nothing quite like summer in Japan…

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