I Don’t Believe in Febreze

by allisonkujiraoka

We were to have some friends back to our place after dinner out last Saturday.  Before leaving the house, my husband made a cursory inspection of the living room area.  He sniffed a chair cushion and declared, “This smells.  We ought to get the Febreze.”  Well, the boys were jumping around, the TV was on, and I still had to slip upstairs to change.  His request got lost in the shuffle.

This was not exactly an oversight on my part.  While I aspire to value and respect Jo’s wishes, in most cases spraying chemical scents around the house is anathema to me.  Part of this stems from my lifelong allergic sensitivity to such things.  No sense in adding to the house dust and various pollens that already do a bang-up job of making me sneeze.  Beyond this, however, is my aversion to anything that tries to hide an underlying problem.  I want to get at the source, find out what has gone awry, and fix that rather than use the proverbial Band-Aid.  I mean, even as kids we laughed at the school nurse who issued an ice pack for every possible ailment, including a stomachache (and not the kind you get from a punch to the gut).

In my teens I would take this to unnecessary extremes.  Since my high school years I have been susceptible to headaches, including the dreaded ocular migraine.  When afflicted with one of these skull crushers, I would refuse Tylenol or its equivalent on the grounds that it was masking the pain, not treating it.  Of course, I now know that many OTC pain relievers double as muscle relaxants, which in fact alleviate the core problem.  To be clear, I have no problem downing two or three Advil at this stage in my life.  Moms, unlike teenagers,  don’t have the luxury of suffering in silence.  And, I did opt for the epidural when I gave birth.

But there are more complex issues that stem from the human psyche, or perhaps the collective neurosis of a culture.  In the West we have “Something’s rotten in Denmark;” in Japan people say Kusai mono ni futa.  My literal translation of this stock phrase is “If something stinks, put a lid on it.”  The bilingual dictionary puts it into these colloquial terms: it is to “turn a blind eye to something unpleasant; sweep a troublesome problem under the carpet; hush up a scandal.”  The Japanese are expert at smoothing over rough edges, saving face (theirs and others’), and maintaining the status quo.  These skills come in handy in a densely populated island nation.  Three sides of our house are bordered by less than two feet of space before a neighbor’s property encroaches, and we live in what Tokyoites call “the sticks.”  Add to this an observation my friend Erika made several years ago: “There is no psychology in this country.”  Whereas the West has accepted therapy as a rite of passage, the Japanese have chosen to tough it out and will those demons away.

I am not rah-rahing counseling nor am I condemning Japanese culture.  I was taught long ago to approach cultural differences without judgment, realizing that each one has its merits.  But as a human construct, culture is bound to be inherently flawed, and we kid ourselves if we emulate it lock, stock, and barrel.  Do a brief Web search and you will find that Japan’s so-called “culture of silence” has been blamed for last year’s Fukushima nuclear accident by both Western and Japanese media.  A man-made disaster, they are calling it.  To me, “man-made” implies “preventable,” and as a resident of Fukushima that notion is infuriating and terribly sad.  I asked my husband for his interpretation of kusai mono ni futa, and he said, “Something that looks shady, something you don’t want to hear about or touch.”  Did he suppose one could link such thinking with the Fukushima disaster?  He wasn’t willing to go that far, until he started a search for the term on his smartphone.  After reading the various results he got (immediately and in great quantity, I might add), he conceded that, yes, it did seem to mesh.

In the last year professional psychological organizations have come out of hiding, showering us with a myriad of questionnaires regarding the mental health of our kids and any residual trauma they may have.   Screening is going to be done on every child, a recent letter from the elementary school said.  Hotlines have been set up.  I applaud these efforts on one level and resist them on another, as they reek of a salve meant to assuage the rage of parents who are sentenced to watching their children grow up in the shadow of an ongoing radioactive threat.

A good percentage of parenting is sleuthing that begins with determining why baby is crying.  He’s not hungry–is he sick?  She screamed and threw her head back when I changed the channel–what’s going on?  Rei is a child who can readily verbalize his feelings; statements like “I’m angry because Minori took my new book” or “I’m sad because I miss Mom-Mom” get us halfway to solving the problem.  We have to work harder with Minori, who has no qualms about showing emotion but cannot state from whence it comes.  These two are our charge in this life, no matter where we call home, so I am committed to the messy job of taking off the lid, peering inside, and dealing with what we find there.  I’ll save the Band-Aids for flesh wounds and take extra care with the ones that hide, nameless.