by W. Somerset Watanabe
In Japan a dog may go “wan wan” instead of “bow wow” and a sneeze may sound more like “hakkushon!” than “achoo!” but a dog is a dog and a cold is a cold for all that.
Despite Mr. Kipling, the twain have always met on the common ground of the common cold and the elusive little virus that can cause more discomfort than a two-week stretch on a Spanish rack has been sought out and battled in both East and West with an endless and imaginative assortment of home cures. Many of the Japanese cures are uniquely exotic and, since they have been used for centuries, presumably effective.
A great favorite among many of the older farmers in Japan is the tangerine treatment, for which, not surprisingly, a tangerine is the first and essential ingredient. The next essential is an open fire. The unpeeled tangerine is simly roasted over the fire until its skin is as crisp and black as a bride’s toast, and the patient then takes a deep breath and devours the whole charred and blackened mess as best he can. The psychology of this cure is pretty obvious to me and I rate it right along with the old gambit of beating yourself over the head with a hammer to enable you to ignore the pain in your foot.
Slightly less gagging and somewhat more common are a whole series of hot drink treatments. The most popular of these is called shogayu and shogayu is compounded by mixing a substantial quantity of freshly grated ginger with boiling hot water. Presto! A ginger tea with a most oriental aroma and a surprisingly pleasant taste.
Mikanyu is also a very popular cure, but, since mikanyu is nothing more mysterious than hot orange juice and a generous dollop of Old Whatever-You-May, this is not really surprising. However, to be most effective, I am told that mikanyu should be drunk while soaking in a hot tub which has first been seasoned with dried orange peel. Another remedy which should also be taken in the steaming comfort of a hot bath is oroshiyu—a rather weird tasting mixture of grated Japanese radish and hot water.
In fact, practically all of Japan’s hot drink cures have the same common denominator —the hot bath—and I think it’s probably safe to assume that the drinks themselves are merely a Japanese version of the old general practitioner’s sugar pill, a psychosomatic cure-all that kept America’s kids well and happy for generations.
Tamagosake—which is quite a mouthful to say but heaven to drink—is a delicious blend of hot sake and raw egg whipped to a creamy, egg-nog smoothness. To the initiated, tamagosake is known as the cure that makes a cold worthwhile, and it is also highly favored by those who take a strong stand for preventive medicine. I might add that these champions of the ounce of prevention can be seen reeling home by the thousands on almost any winter’s night from one end of Japan to the other.
There is one famous Japanese cure which, despite the cries of language purists, simply has to be called the epicure. In this somewhat less than Spartan treatment, the patient is served a brimming bowl of specially and delicately spiced noodles while relaxing in the warm and soothing comfort of— what else?—a hot bath. This lovely practice was once commonplace in many of Japan’s numerous public bath houses, but the incidence of slipped discs and various other strains and sprains was alarmingly high, and the proprietors of the public baths were finally forced to put down their collective feet. Carelessly discarded noodles on smooth, wet tile can be as treacherous as banana peels on ice and have paved the way, so to speak, for some of the nastiest little falls outside burlesque.
But the most drastic cold cure of them all has to be the one originally dreamed up and introduced to Japan by some misanthropic and melancholy Dane. It never really caught on in Japan but is still practiced sparingly in certain areas of Minnesota and Montana. This unbelievable cure demands that the vie—sorry! the patient be buried up to his neck in a pile of reasonably fresh horse manure. This treatment is strongly recommended for the man who knows what he wants and, in this case, who obviously wants to be alone. . .