A sensitivity course in the frigid effects of hiesho


“Hey, what’s with all the clothing during the hottest months of the year?” That’s my friend Alan’s observation of the working women populace in Japan. Nagasode (long sleeves), uwagi (outer jacket) and suttokingu (nylons) are the norm for so many of them, despite the unbearable heat and humidity of a Japanese summer.

Alan’s observation is perfectly understandable. He’s from Florida, is the proud owner of a “Bay Watch” collection and he’s not skinny. If Alan had his way in Tokyo, he’d go around in a pair of cut-offs and rubber sandals without bothering about the T-shirt, and expect to see women do pretty much the same.

I gave Alan a little speech about Japanese women and the mysteries of their synapses.

“You insensitive gaijin you,” I snarled. “Don’t you understand that most Japanese women suffer from the condition known as hiesho (inclined to be chilly) and our three sworn enemies are reibo (air conditioning), shikke (dampness) and usugi (thin clothing)? The sad fact is, many Japanese women are plagued by bad circulation and cold feet. We have to be very, very careful during the summer months because a couple of hours in an air-conditioned office wearing a thin skirt can lead to a severe case of natsukaze (summer cold) within 30 minutes. Mind you, I’m not talking about the gyaru (gal) or under-20 crowd. It’s OK for them; they haven’t been wearing the nihon no onna (woman of Japan) persona long enough to realize that summers can actually become chilly, and winters unendurable.

But once they hit 25, some kind of ancient, inescapable instinct kicks in. Suddenly, that skimpy tank top is giving them sabuibo (cold-weather goose bumps). Suddenly, nama ashi (raw legs, or legs not covered in anything) is not an option anymore.

Alan’s most recent Japanese girlfriend couldn’t go out of the house unless she wore a girdle, and this wasn’t for figure-enhancement so much as protection against the elements. He also discovered she couldn’t drink cold milk and that she actually liked lukewarm water. And — get this — after September, she wore socks in bed. As much as Alan loved and respected his girlfriend, he thought her behavior odd and even alienating. He’s the kind of guy who likes to chug milk from the carton, munch on ice cubes and thinks socks are worn when a man wants to “dress up.” Quite literally, their relationship chilled.

My sympathies are with his girlfriend. Many hiesho women suffer from complexes and spend much of their waking moments trying to combat their condition. They, too, want to go back to that time when an usui (thin) crepe dress with teensy, tiny lingerie underneath was their summer uniform and a bowl of kakigori (shaved ice) sufficed for summer meals. To this end, they read health books, check out the many hiesho goods on sale at Matsukiyo (Matsumoto Kiyoshi Drugstore, the pharmacy of choice for young women) and spend huge amounts of time with their feet stuck in basins of warm water. Called ashiyu (foot-soaking), currently known as the best and most effective hiesho-buster, it helps step up the junkanki (circulatory system) without putting pressure on the shinzo (heart). You see, Japanese women are generally convinced they have thinner, more fragile blood vessels and thus believe it’s never a good idea to exert the heart too much.

Another natural and popular method is hanshinyoku (soaking in warm water from the waist down). This not only warms the body but also cleanses the pores and gives the system a quick overhaul. It also helps address the other twin pillars of Japanese women’s health concerns: taiju gensho (weight loss) and sutoresu kanwa (stress reduction).

On the positive side, hiesho has spawned a dating subculture. The quickest way to get a woman talking is to ask her how chilly (or not) she’s feeling. A surefire way to catch her attention is to inquire about whether the air conditioning is too low for her. And the best way to tell whether a woman likes you is to listen for that time-honored phrase: sukoshi samui wa (“I’m a little cold”). If she directs that phrase at you, then it’s almost an admission of love. She’s cold, and she needs a bit of warmth.