Saturday, January 26, 2013

27.01.2013 - a story about tampons

I moved to Japan. All find and dandy, even though I barely speak the language.

But eventually I got my period and lo, I had run out of my nice safe Canadian tampons with their nice, safe English writing and their nice, safe little flowers on the box to remind how OK it was for me to be bleeding profusely.
To me, they said nice, safe things like "hey, you're not pregnant!" and "these cramps that make you want to die are really just making you stronger…"

I popped out to the nearest pharmacy, where they owner already thought I was batshit crazy because the first time I'd come in I was looking for vitamin D pills and had picked up everything in the store twice before finally just coming out and asking him if they sold them in my broken Japanese, whilst standing directing in front of the shelf filled with vitamins, all of which had English labels. The second time I was there I managed to find band-aids fine, but then accidentally spilled about 3000yen worth of coins on the ground while paying.

Needless to say, my credibility was at an all-time low at the particular establishment.

I managed to find the aisle that holds various lady products and also all the painkillers (which is a smart move on their part) and I began looking through miles of different kinds of pads.
Now, I've used pads and they're a nightmare. There's always blood everywhere, you feel like you've peed your pants and no one ever, ever can give you one if you need it. They look at you with pity and say "oh, sorry, I have a tampon?", implying it'd be better for everyone if you just used them instead. (It is.)
But apparently in Japan they're still big. And most alarmingly beside each box was a sample pad attached to the shelf with a nice little bit of string.
Presumably so you can see the exact difference between the 'double wing deluxe' and the 'single wing wraparound', which must be a real issue for someone out there.

Finally find the tampons and they're terrifying looking. No friendly english words, no flowers. This is in a country where the logo for the police is an adorable little fairy cartoon and every cellphone has a charm on it; a lack of kawaii is a lack of life in every single area besides feminine hygiene I learned that day.
One brand had horrid grey boxes that made me feel like the world was mad at me for menstruating and on another box there was a bizzare stick figure diagram explaining how to insert one.

Now, this may seem reasonable initially but let me pose a question.
How many people buy tampons with no previous knowledge of how they're used?
Who just steps into a pharmacy and thinks they'll try one of those wacky tampon things for fun?
Absolutely no one.

When I'd finally settled on the brand with the diagram (I may be hit in the head at any time, and I'd hate to bleed everywhere) and I needed to figure out what size to get.
For those not terribly familiar with buying tampons, they come in sizes.
Which, in Japan are written in katakana. Which I can read exactly enough of to say "I don't read really any of it, no"

So I'm standing there in the tampon/meds aisle, with a man who already things I'm mental hovering around because I've been in his damn store for 15 minutes, trying to will my brain to understand the differences between a lot of little lines arranged in slightly different patterns.
And gosh darn if it doesn't work. Suddenly I just knew which says 'regular' and, frankly, I was ecstatic. I'm proud to say the first two phrases I ever read in katakana were on tampon boxes.

I walked up to the counter and bought them, which was all fine until he he breaks out the black plastic and starts wrapping up the box.
This was disconcerting for a number of reasons, but the issue forefront in my mind was I now felt like I was buying harcore porn and/or some kind of terrifying sex toy that children can never see, which is a bit of a creepy feeling. Now, if you're actually buying those things then I assume you're happy about it so you've made peace with the fact that you're buying something that's too dirty to just be in a plastic bag, but unfortunately for me I didn't have that kind to anticipatory joy.

And, of course, the store is suddenly filled with middle aged men all of whom are in the biggest hurry of their lives, only to by stymied by some westerner who's obviously buying tampons.
They're lurking behind me, tapping their toes and shooting me looks that clearly say they feel it's my personal fault this happens to woman and how could I not have tampons already?

Finally he's done his wrapping and taping, and then he asked if I wanted a bag.
I said no because I do my bit to save the planet (when it's convenient) and I only needed to walk about 2 blocks home.

First he kind of insists and I just seem saying no, then he starts gesturing wildly at the box while clearing trying to make me understand what I was buying. (Remember, this scary box has already been wrapped in black plastic and taped up within an inch of it's life) At this point I was all riled up for no reason other than I could be, and I just took them and walked out leaving the poor man with a look of pure horror on his face.

The moral to that story is either A) try to learn the language before you move to a new country or B) never travel with less than a years supply of tampons.

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