When I think about children, I tend to think of noisy, moody, grabby creatures that pick their noses ferociously and consistently smell questionable. They do have their good moments, yes, but I am still at a point in my life where I am less than enthused about spending long periods of time with them. Of course, due to the nature of my work, I am regularly put into rooms with children for 40 to 50 minutes at a time. After a while of this, you start to notice things about the kids you spend your weeks with. As an American, I tend to draw frequent comparisons between Japan and my home culture. Kids do not escape this. There’s one thing in particular I’ve noticed (or haven’t noticed, I suppose) that has made lessons a lot more tolerable than they could be.
Yes, that’s right. This blog is about farts, or lack thereof. When I think about American kids and my own childhood in the states, I remember things as being much smellier than they are here. Kids in class at school would silently smell up the room. There were kids who were known to be more gaseous than others, and classmates would giggle when/if someone broke wind audibly. Boys even used flatulence as a weapon; helpless individuals could be the victim of a drive-by-farting at any time. It was a natural (though embarrassing at times) part of growing up. Young children are typically not particularly practiced when it comes to containing their own noxious fumes.
Here, however, I rarely experience this. My school-age students range in age from 5 years old to high school aged, and in about two years of teaching them I can confidently say that I can count on only one hand the number of times an unpleasant smell has mysteriously arisen in the room or a surprising outburst has been released from a student. I’m not complaining, by any means. My classrooms are pleasant-smelling learning dens.
I notice that even in crowded public spaces like trains I rarely notice anything farty (drunken salaryman breath/sweat, however, is another matter). Overwhelmingly, the Japanese just don’t seem to be a very stinky people. This may be part of the reason foreigners like myself can be somewhat paranoid of being regarded as a smelly gaijin.
I’ve thought about why our cultures seem to have such distinct differences on the smelliness scale, and believe it can be traced back to diet. Research shows that foods like dairy products, high fructose corn syrup, cruciferous vegetables (like cauliflower and broccoli), and wheat tend to produce gas when eaten. Additionally, red meat can also produce gas – not from the enzymes in it, but simply because it takes longer for the body to digest, which allows gas to accumulate in the digestive system. These foods are also typically more prevalent in American diets than Japanese diets. While Japanese meals incorporate cuisines and ingredients from all over the world, foods do not rely as heavily on fart-inducing substances. Rather, the Japanese diet utilizes elements like rice, fish, tofu, and non-cruciferous vegetables, which tend to produce less gas.
Of course, this could all just be hot air. While diet may play a role in the gaseousness of an individual, there are a number of other factors that could determine a person’s fartiness. Some people are lactose intolerant. Others may swallow more air when they eat, or chew a lot of gum (during which air is swallowed). People may drink varying amounts of carbonated drinks (those bubbles have to go somewhere). Additionally, anti-gas medicine may play a part. We have remedies available stateside; names like Beano and Gas-X were mocked openly throughout junior high school for being related with excessive amounts of flatulence. Products like this are available in Japan, too. In addition, there are also products used to negate smells in the bathroom. These are sprays; users spray the surface of the toilet water before use to neutralize any smells that may result. I’m guessing that gas stopping products are used more often in Japan because toilet humor just isn’t as widely giggled at among adults. American life is riddled with bathroom jokes, rude noises, and a litany of impolite phrases. Japan is a little better about not openly sharing bodily functions.
Whatever the reason may be, I’m grateful that my classrooms and my life are, for the most part, smell-free and pleasant. If anything, I am probably the smelliest person in my lessons by default because I’m foreign. That’s OK…until the day one of my students blames me for one of their farts.