How Japanese Women Talk about Hot Flushes: Implications for Menopause Research

Abstract

An unanticipated onomatopoeic expression emerged during ethnographic interviews with Japanese women about menopausal symptoms. At the same time, a newly coined term for hot flush, derived from English, started appearing in Japanese media. These two independent linguistic phenomena led me to speculate on what linguistic expression of physical sensations may reveal about social forces in a given society. This report examines the complexities involved in studying physiological symptoms. The multiple and intertwined variables—including economics, politics, social organization, and language—involved in translating physiological symptoms cross-culturally have been well recognized. But how to study these variables remains a challenge. This article offers a case study of what careful attention to verbal expression may tell us. My argument underscores the social fact that the expressions people choose to use vary according to their reasons for communicating and that their motivations for verbalizing symptoms (hot flush, in this case) depend on the priorities and sanctions of the society in which they live. These factors must be given due consideration when assessing any symptoms of the individual body.