Friday, March 18, 2011

The Japanese Manners of Visiting a Patient in a Hospital

Flowers, fruits, or sweets — these are the very common gifts for hospital visits in Japan. When you go to see someone there, what do you give them?

In American movies, I often see people bringing colorful balloons to visit a patient in the hospital. I’m not sure it’s ordinary in the States, but it’s not in Japan. Almost all Japanese bring a present, as I wrote before, and mostly flowers. It must seem so cliché, but we have unique Japanese manners for お見舞い (omimai), or going to see a patient in the hospital.

First of all, choose clothes carefully. You shouldn’t be dressed in all black, because it reminds patients of funerals. Try to choose light and soft colors, if possible, like the kind of colors that would make the patient feel better. Sometimes strong smells make them worse, so avoid wearing perfume.

Second, there are some manners to send flowers. Never give them a potted plant. The potted plant will take root. When describing “taking root” in Japanese it is 根付く(neduku). Neduku can also be written in a different way, 寝付く, which means staying in bed. This brings us a bad image. Send an arrangement or bouquet of flowers. But you have to be careful to choose the flowers’ colors. Only in cold colors could remind of funerals, and dark or deep red reminds of blood or bleeding. So if you want to send flowers, light, soft, and warm color arrangements are best.

There are also flowers we shouldn’t select. First don’t choose 菊(kiku), chrysanthemum, because it’s a typical flower used to decorate funerals in Japan.

椿(tsubaki), camellia, and 山茶花(sazanka), sasanqua, are said to be unlucky because part of the flower will fall after blooming, and it’s thought to look like a head dropping.

 椿 (tsubaki, camellia)

紫陽花(ajisai), hydrangea, is a type of flowers that fades. Flowers fading makes people imagine a life fading.

↑紫陽花 (ajisai, hydrangea)

シクラメン(shikuramen), cyclamen, should also be avoided. When we write cyclamen in its phonetic equivalent, the first two characters can be written in this way — 死苦. 死(shi) means death, and 苦(ku) means bitter, difficult, or harsh.

百合(yuri), lily, is a very strong smelling flower. For the same reason of not wearing perfume, let’s not choose it.

↑百合 (yuri, lily)

These flowers are very beautiful flowers in daily life, but you shouldn’t choose them when you visiting Japanese friends or co-workers in the hospital. Even though they may not care about the images brought by flowers, their family could mind.

However, we sometimes have to think of other gifts because depending on the room, there could be no space to have flowers anyway, or some patients may have hay fever. If a patient is placed on a restrictive diet, we can’t bring food either. And during hospitalization, patients are required to bring many appropriate personal belongings: chopsticks, a mug, a few pajamas, a pair of slippers, some towels, a box of Kleenex, and more. So we want to avoid something that’s too much to carry. In such a case, I recommend books, magazines, or a テレビカード(terebi-card), a prepaid TV card.

                ↑prepaid TV cards                    TV card vending machine

While they are in hospitals they have plenty of time. But they can’t kill time easily there. So your presents will be very helpful for them. When they finish reading books or magazines, they can leave them on a bookshelf at a lounge in their hospital. And magazines are easy to throw away. In Japan, almost all hospitals have a fee TV at each bed or room except private rooms. So if patients want to watch TV in their beds, they have to buy a TV card beforehand because it’s necessary for watching TV. When they don’t use up a card they can refund at the hospital.

The best thing is you won’t need to visit your loved ones in the hospital; but if you do, I hope this helps.

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