Japan from the inside out

Boxers or briefs?

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, August 1, 2009

JAPANESE MEN have a reputation for disdaining household chores, but even they might think Wakata Koichi went too far—he showed up at work every day for a month straight wearing the same underpants.

Wakata Koichi

Wakata Koichi

It wasn’t as bad or as malodorous as it sounds, though. None of the 12 coworkers in his office complained, which means the experiment for which Mr. Wakata served as the guinea pig was a success.

His u-trou were special–they’re called J-Wear and were designed by JAXA, the Japanese space agency. Going without an underwear change for a month was one of the duties the Japanese astronaut handled while spending the last 138 days aboard the International Space Station. The space shuttle Endeavor gave him a lift back to Earth yesterday. There was no word on whether his underpants started walking around under their own power.

That wasn’t all he did when he was in orbit. As this article in The Scotsman describes:

One had him flying through the cabin standing upright on a white sheet that performed like a surfboard. Another was to administer eye drops in space. That involved him squeezing the liquid into a tiny ball at the tip of the bottle and effectively head-butting it to get it into his eye.

Mr Wakata’s J-Wear included more than futuristic Jockey shorts. JAXA also provided him with special socks, T-shirts, and trousers. He brought all this dirty laundry back home, just as any man on a business trip might do. Instead of leaving the laundry with his wife, however, he gave it to JAXA scientists for study and testing. How’d you like to be one of their lab techs?

And give the spaceman credit, too. Would you want to wear the suit in the photo knowing that you wouldn’t be able to scratch your itchy crotch?

But this wasn’t an outer space first. Doi Takao wore the underpants on the ISS last year, though his experiment lasted for only 16 days. That means a new outer space underwear endurance record has been set!

As chance would have it, I saw part of a television program last night that featured interviews with American astronauts who went to the moon. One described how difficult it was to deal with bowel movements in a weightless environment. Since everything floats, it wasn’t easy making sure everything stayed in the bag without sailing through the cabin.

When people say space is the final frontier, they’re not kidding about the frontier part!

Incidentally, Mr. Wakata made 2,208 earth orbits and traveled for 57,000,000 miles during his more than four months on the space station. The space shuttle has now become a de facto ferryboat, providing taxi service to the station and back.

Perhaps the most newsworthy part of the story is how blasé we’ve become about all this. Mr. Wakata’s adventures didn’t even rate an article in today’s Nishinippon Shimbun.

Afterwords: Here’s what the duds look like.

UPDATE: The coverage of this story by the Japanese media came a day late. It’s on the front page of the newspaper today.

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