Life and Health in Japan

IMG_1373 From the 34th floor window of my hotel room on the Southern Terrace near Shinjuku train station I have an expansive view of the city. Below me, thousands of Japanese men and women emerge like ants from the subway and rail lines on their way to work.

After catching up on overnight email, I decided to take a short walk from my hotel.  Getting early daylight is part of my plan to quickly overcome jet lag before my business meetings begin tomorrow. Along the way, I stopped to grab a cup of coffee at Starbucks (yes even here in this land of tea drinkers).  

IMG_1377As I sat near a window watching people file by, I was  reminded of a few things that struck me the last time I was in Tokyo.  First, for all the mass of humanity this is a very clean city.  Americans would do well to respect the environment like the Japanese.  I honestly cannot spot even a scrap of paper on the street, let alone the heaps of plastic bags, cups, beer cans, cigarette butts and other detritus blowing around so many American cities.  Second, for the most part, the Japanese people appear to be fit.  Yes, too many of them still smoke cigarettes, but they none-the-less look healthier than what I’d expect to IMG_1380 see on a typical American street.  I also noted at dinner last evening that restaurants are now catering more to people who don’t smoke.  Upon my arrival I was immediately asked, “smoking or non-smoking?”.  That was a pleasant change.  I just wonder if the insidious invasion of western foods and eating habits will eventually undo the Japanese too.  Can an obesity and diabetes epidemic be far behind?  Well, at least the streets will remain clean.

IMG_1374The other thing that always catches my attention here in Japan is how  many people on the street are wearing a paper face mask.  I’ve observed this during all seasons of the year.  Colleagues tell me they do it to protect themselves from illness.  While the practice may provide some minimal protection, most of the masks I saw were thin, ill-fitting paper barriers that likely wouldn’t filter out contagious viruses.  Besides, the greatest risk is transferring infection picked up on your hands to mouth, nose, or eyes.  But I guess if the mask brings a sense of security to the wearer maybe its worth the bother. In any event, I find myself walking down the street wondering if I should be wearing one too--just to fit in.

Bill Crounse, MD  Senior Director, Worldwide Health    Microsoft

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