Kokoro no Kaze: Does Your Soul Have a Cold?


Feeling sad? Have you lost interest in things you used to enjoy? Perhaps you're suffering from a cold of the soul.

That's the concept that has taken Japan by storm in the last five years, thanks to a culturally savvy marketing campaign launched by pharmaceutical companies to turn mild depression into an acceptable malady that a simple prescription can cure.

Anyone familiar with Japan will recognize that "kokoro no kaze" (literally "cold of the soul") is a phrase guaranteed to resonate with the citizens of that country. Preventing and treating colds is practically a national pastime there.

Everywhere in Japan, you see people wearing gauzy surgical-style masks covering their nose and mouth. Although some may be wearing the masks to protect themselves from the latest bug, the majority of wearers are simply being courteous. In a nation lauded for its complex culture of politeness, the Japanese wear masks when they come down with a cold as a polite way of warning and protecting others.

In Japan, your dentist and dental assistants are likely to wear masks--not to protect themselves from your mouth breathing, but to provide a polite barrier so that you won't be inadvertently subjected to their germs or the lingering odor of their sushi lunch.

Catching a cold in Japan is an opportunity to practice concern for others. How brilliant, then, that pharmaceutical companies have developed this new phrase to describe the symptoms of mild depression. Now, Japanese businessmen, housewives and students are running to their doctors in droves to get prescriptions for antidepressants. In a culture steeped in politeness, it seems that the same folks likely to cover their noses and mouths to protect others from germs are recognizing their obligation to protect their loved ones from their melancholy.

After living in Japan for five years and having a Japanese sister-in-law and four beloved bicultural nieces and nephews, I have a great fondness for that country. That's why I am saddened by this new need to treat mild depression with drugs.

I'm all for turning to pharmaceuticals to help those who are severely depressed. I've lost two brothers to suicide, and even the worst drug on the market is better than that outcome.

Crown Princess Masako, a Harvard grad who surprised the world by agreeing to marry Crown Prince Hirohito and live behind the closed doors of the Emperor's Palace, prompted a national debate on depression when it was announced recently that she was undergoing treatment for the disease. Though it doesn't surprise us that the life of a princess and its accompanying expectations to bear heirs might be difficult to handle--we all watched the sad story of Princess Diana unfold--this is an unprecedented admission in Japan. The fact that the Imperial Family has publicly acknowledged Masako's struggles will have a profound impact on the ongoing discussion of depression in a nation known for its suicide rate.

Preventing suicide? Good. Taking drugs for mild depression? Not always so good.

Does life in "advanced" countries like Japan create stress, frustration and sadness? You bet. Should a culture be treated, en masse, by drugs? I have to question that.

The me-too mentality is all too prevalent in a nation that prides itself on this phrase: "The nail that sticks up gets hammered down." I hate to think of millions of Japanese taking drugs in order to deal with the expectations of their culture. I hate to think of ANYONE taking drugs for that reason. And yet, it's becoming a remarkably common practice around the world.

Our folk wisdom tells us, "Feed a cold, starve a fever." Traditional remedies may help a cold of the soul as well. We don't run to the clinic every time we develop an itchy throat. We drink tea, take vitamins, get plenty of rest--in other words, we take care of ourselves.

Shouldn't we try boosting our soul's immune system first before choosing a pharmaceutical solution?

Recognizing sadness or dissatisfaction is positive. Dealing with the pieces of your life that aren't fitting together is powerful and rewarding. Making decisions to improve your relationships or circumstances is empowering. Understanding our role as growing, changing humans and applying mindfulness to our greatest challenges strengthens and elevates us.

It feeds our soul.

Is it easy? No. Is it healthy? Yes. And letting our loved ones know of our struggle and our optimistic determination to work through it?

Priceless.

Face mask, anyone?

About The Author

Maya Talisman Frost is a mind masseuse offering specialized mindfulness training in Portland, Oregon. Her work has inspired thinkers in over 90 countries.


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