Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Medical Check-Up, Japanese Style

"Tomorrow morning, we will go to our annual medical check-up before work!" my manager texted to me.

This announcement surprised me, especially since it was 10 PM, I was about to set my alarm for my usual wake-up time of 9 AM, and I had no idea that I was supposed to receive a medical check-up.  I'm all about staying healthy, so I simply replied, "OK!  Thank you!"

My Japanese manager picked me up at my apartment, her face fixed in her omnipresent genuine smile.  My other co-worker, who is from Canada, waited in the front seat.  We made small talk as we rode along, passing restaurants and factories.  After about five minutes, we arrived in front of the clinic.  Our manager held a folder with what I assumed were medical or insurance documents for us (I was told that our company pays for our annual medical examination). 

We walked inside and up the stairs to a waiting area.  The walls were lined with windows, and since the weather was sunny and cool, the clinic felt calm and welcoming.  The manager gave the receptionist our paperwork, and we sat down to wait for our turn.  Maybe thirty seconds passed before my co-worker was summoned to go into the bathroom with a cup.  I waited for about two minutes before I was called to do the same.  The cup had "26" written on it.  My manager explained that when I was done with my urine sample, I was to place my cup on the board by the receptionist's window.  I glanced at the board, which reminded me of a game of numerical checkers.  I saw the square for "26" and nodded.

After all three of us had completed that part of the examination, we walked down the hall to another room.  Chairs lined the walls, and small sections separated by curtains hid medical assistants.  When my name was called, I sat down across from a cheery woman who made every effort to speak to me in English. 

"Relax!" she gently commanded.  She touched the cushion on the table, and I placed my right arm on it.  She took my blood pressure and then showed me what the results were.

"It's okay!" she exclaimed.  She smiled at me and quickly bowed her head, signaling me to go back to the waiting area.  I thanked her in Japanese and went back to my seat.

My co-worker was sitting in the next section, the curtain half-drawn.  He was undergoing a vision test and a hearing test.  I didn't understand what happened, but when he had finished, three medical assistants flocked around him and began discussing something.  He glanced back at our manager, but then the ladies dispersed.  I guess nothing serious had happened?

The woman then said my name, and I walked over.  She stretched her arms apart vertically to show me that she was going to take my height, and then she stretched them horizontally to show me that she was going to weigh me as well.  I removed my shoes and stepped on the footprints on the scale, which performed both tasks quickly and efficiently.  She jotted down my measurements and my weight, and she then showed them to me and said, "OK!" 

I think she meant that I was healthy and in a normal range for my size and frame.

She then motioned for me to sit down.  She pointed to her eyes and asked me, "Contact lenses?"  I nodded and said, "Hai, hai."  She nodded back and pointed to the small screen before me. 

I peered into the phoropter (yes, I looked up the name for this fancy optometry tool).  I saw a circle with numbers 1 through 10 on the left, and then I saw 1 through 10 on three rows of varying sizes (from biggest at the top to smallest at the bottom).  Beneath each number was a circle with a small piece of it missing.  For example, underneath 1, the top part of the circle was missing; underneath 2, the right side of the circle was missing.

The woman then said something to me in Japanese, followed by "One."  I didn't understand what she wanted me to do, so I looked up at her.  She drew a circle in the air with her finger and then pointed up, down, left, and right.  I nodded--a popular gesture for me--and looked back into the machine.

"One," she repeated.  I noticed that the top part of the circle was missing, but I didn't know how to express my observation verbally.  So, I did a little hand dance that may remind some of you of the "YMCA."

 Translation: "The top is missing." ("Karate-chop!" is also acceptable.)

 "The right side is missing." (Or maybe "Super-size me!")

"The bottom is missing." (Or "Yo, dawg, I dunno which 'hood I'm at.")

"The left side is missing." (Or "Please don't mistake this for some new American dance craze.")

After bearing with me, the sweet lady tested my left eye and right eye individually.  My left eye is weaker than my right, even with contact lenses in, so whenever I answered--ahem, gestured--incorrectly, she made a polite "Hm" sound.  She showed me that I had answered everything correctly for my right eye, but I had missed six for my left eye.  I felt a wave of fear; would she make me order new corrective eye-wear?  Would she summon ten doctors to inspect my eyes more closely?

Nope!  She bowed, and my manager, co-worker, and I made our way for round-four in the clinic.  We sat in the new waiting area.  I tried to watch a Japanese soap opera that was playing on the TV.  I think it was similar to ER, which I have never actually viewed. 

"Roberts Celeste-san?"

Time for a new dance so soon?

I walked into the new room, which was sectioned by curtains again.  The doctor motioned for me to sit down on the stool, and she sat down across from me.  She took out her stethoscope, and she made motions for me to lift up my shirt.  I did so, and she proceeded to check my heartbeat.  Nothing unusual there.

Afterwards, I went back into the waiting area, but I sat for no longer than one minute: time for my X-ray.

The X-ray tech bowed to me and showed me into a small room with plenty of space, minus the X-ray machine.  He fumbled for English words and made gestures on his chest, as though he were removing something.

"Oh, bra?" I asked.

"Hai, hai.  Please remove."

He stepped out of the room to allow me privacy.  I left on my cami, but when he returned, he politely pointed to it and shook his hands.  He handed me an over-sized orange t-shirt and stepped out again.  I changed and walked to the window to see whether he was ready.

He walked in again and led me to the X-ray machine.

"Chin," he instructed, and he patted the indention.  I placed my chin on it, and he then placed my arms on the sides of the machine.

"Please relax."

The whole process took maybe fifteen seconds, and he bowed to me and then motioned to my clothes before leaving the room again.  I dressed myself and then reached for the door, but he was faster than I was.  He walked me out to the waiting area again and thanked me in both Japanese and English.

Our whole appointment lasted for about 45 minutes.  I imagine we may have left sooner had we not had to deal with my confusion, but overall, I cannot get over how efficient this "assembly line" method is (as my co-worker coined it).

Have you ever had to receive medical care in Japan or in another country?  What was your experience like?  Share with me, please!

Till next time--see you!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

A Day in Kurayoshi

Good day to everyone!

Not much interesting has been happening lately, aside from work and my catching up on The Big Bang Theory (I started watching it at the beginning of this year, so I have many episodes to view.  No complaints!).

However, on Sunday, my friends and I spent a day in Kurayoshi, home to our Japanese co-worker and friend.  I love this small town in Tottori Prefecture: It's surrounded by lakes, mountains, open fields, and beautiful Japanese homes.  I felt more connected to Japan in the hours I was there than I have since I was in Okayama.

We attended a manga fair that featured artwork and displays for three famous local manga artists.  The only character I recognized was Detective Conan, whose anime in America is called Case Closed!  I love the quirky, clever plot behind this fascinating mystery series.

 Look!  I'm Conan!

 I'm the princess of Tottori's Manga Kingdom!  :P

 Which pose looks better?  I wanted to imitate Conan. 

Autograph from and picture with two girls at the fair.

My friends and I had an awesome time at the fair.  Not many people were there by the time we arrived--we caught the last two hours of the event--but we still enjoyed some live entertainment that included singing, dancing, and comedy acts.  We also perused the gift shops to see the manga, anime, and other Japanese goodies the merchants had to offer.

On our way to the fair, we spotted a beautiful Chinese shrine surrounded by a lush garden.  We stopped over there for about an hour.  I was in heaven!  I adore pandas and Oriental architecture, so this spot was a must-see for me.

 Our panda caddies for our bags. 

 Trying to look sophisticated, pensive, and maybe a little emo.

Our Japanese co-worker kindly invited us over for dinner at his home.  Out of respect for his privacy and to avoid appearing creepy, I didn't take any pictures of his abode.  We had a great time playing video games on his N64--I love games, and playing old favorites like Super Smash Bros. and Mario Tennis 64 in Japan may have added to my "Life Completeness" meter--and eating Japanese curry.  I also learned how to play the card game Revolution as well as an American board game he had purchased in California called Sequence.  I think I have new pastimes to share with my friends back home.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the pictures!  Till next time! 

Monday, August 20, 2012

O-Bon 2012 in Tokyo

Konnichiwa!  こんにちは

I had one week off for O-bon, the Japanese holiday where Japanese families go to visit the graves of their loved ones and clean them.  Families also offer special fruit, flowers, and food to the deceased.  This ritual reminds me of All Saints' Day.

I returned from Tokyo with my co-worker/friend Heather on Friday after an exciting six days.  We had the time of our lives exploring Jimbocho, Asakusa, Shinjuku, and Shibuya, some of the districts of Tokyo.  

We arrived in Tokyo Sunday evening after taking a local train from Tottori to Himeji and then the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Tokyo.  The entire trip took about six hours.   We stayed in the Sakura Hotel/Hostel in Jimbocho for the first night, and we then stayed in the branch in Asakusa.  We much preferred the Jimbocho hostel, so we returned there for our last two nights.  The rates are affordable, and the facilities are clean and welcoming (about $45 per night, but each person has to pay this fee.  Unlike hotels in America, Japan charges based on how many people are staying in a room instead of giving just one flat rate).  I recommend Jimbocho's branch if you can land a room.  It is more convenient in its location and the layout of the building for privacy.  We also didn't need to use our credit cards to make a reservation; we paid in cash when we arrived.  Here's where you can reserve rooms and check out the locations.

We strolled the streets of Jimbocho and checked out an arcade.  We were the only girls in there, but we enjoyed seeing the different Japanese games.

 *sigh* My favorite superhero!

 My favorite car brand!

Need to park on a different floor?  This machine turns your car for you and moves it up to your floor!

I'm lost in an arcade!  (><)

Lonely?  This is a virtual dating game.  I didn't give it a go, so I can't offer any opinions.  :P

After we walked through the arcade, we wanted to buy some items at the local drugstore.  This one, Matsumoto KiYoshi, has great sales and any personal items you may need.

Next, we found a small restaurant up some stairs in downtown Jimbocho.  I ordered some horse mackerel.  I loved the smoky flavor, but I had to be careful to avoid the tiny bones in the fish.

 This was my dessert.  It was a banana and chocolate ice cream sundae.  It included cake pieces and sweetened red beans.  Sounds odd, but this was delicious.


The next day, we headed for Asakusa, a famous district with a massive shrine.  The beauty of this area and its shrine mesmerized me.  If you ever visit Tokyo, you must see this beautiful piece of Japanese history.

Downtown Asakusa.  The brand new Tokyo Sky Tree is behind me in the distance.

Shop near the shrine.

 Time to choose your fortune!  After you pay 100 yen, you shake a tube and pull out a stick with a number on it.  You find the slot with your corresponding number, and then you pull out your fortune.  The fortunes are in Japanese and English.  After you read it, you can tie it to the red apparatus so that nothing unfortunate happens to it.  Mine was a regular fortune, but since I had nowhere to place it respectfully, I tied it to the wire.

My Japanese friend, Akiko, and I cleansing ourselves with the incense smoke.

 Here is where you wash your hands and rinse out your mouth before you enter the shrine.  The ritual is similar to the Catholic practice of making the sign of the cross with holy water.

 Ceiling inside the shrine.  Absolutely stunning.

The sacred place within the shrine.  No one besides monks may enter (I think special wedding or funeral arrangements allow families to come close to this altar).  A sacred relic from the god lies within.

My friends and I then perused the shops along the shopping district.  We found adorable souvenirs and set-ups inside the shops.  We also stopped into a small restaurant for a quick bite.  I loved my pasta; it was cheesy with shrimp.  ^_^

Japanese celebrities have left their hand-prints here.

About two months ago, Tokyo Sky Tree graced Japan's capital city.  It's an astounding sight.

Our next stop was the brand-new Biohazard Cafe, which is located in the PARCO center in Shibuya.  Biohazard (Resident Evil in the States) is one of my favorite video game series.  If you aren't familiar with its story, here's a synopsis: In the small mid-Western town of Raccoon City, the Umbrella Corporation, a seemingly innocuous pharmaceutical company, begins performing bizarre and clandestine biological experiments.  Humans and animals often become victims to these tests.  A virus known as the T-virus leaks out of the company's hidden underground laboratory at the base of a mansion in the woods outlying Raccoon City, and those who are infected turn into bio-weapons (also known as zombies).

The restaurant has amazing grilled food.  You can order à la carte or pay a reasonable 3400 (3700 for the fellows) yen for an all-you-can-eat assortment of steak, pork, chicken, sausage, potatoes, curry and rice, salad, and dessert.  I also ordered an alcoholic beverage that costs about 500 yen.

 Blue Raccoon.  I recommend it if you like tropical flavors.

Tyrant 00-2 and I!

Here's a video of the cafe and the show that ensued during our meal.

Shot of downtown Shibuya at night.  It's similar to New York City, but I rarely heard any vehicles' horns blaring.

The cafe was nothing like what I had expected: 90s pop boomed throughout the small eatery while girls dresses in semi-Daisy Dukes served us our food.  My friends and I had a great time, though, and since the Biohazard Cafe will be open for only one year, I'm so glad I had a chance to experience it.

The next day, my co-worker and I headed to Ueno Zoo to see the famous pandas!  I was ecstatic to see my favorite animal for the first time in real life!

 Grave inside Ueno Park.

 Perhaps an old museum or home inside Ueno Park.

 Looks like people have been receiving fortunes again.

 Shrine inside of Ueno Park.

 Map of Ueno Zoo.

 Toris lined before a shrine.

 The Imperial Prince Akihito, the current Emperor of Japan.  He is the son of Hirohito, the Emperor of Japan during World War II.

 Beautiful gift from Thailand to Japan in honor of peace between the two countries. 

 Stunning lily pad garden on a lake inside Ueno Zoo.

Ueno Zoo was relaxing and provided a great visit, but I recommend visiting this landmark in the fall or early spring.  The humidity in August made walking around almost too exhausting and unpleasant.  

Our trip on Wednesday is the one my family has been waiting to hear about: Tokyo Disney Sea!  This Disney location is unique to Japan, so my friends and I decided to visit it instead of Disneyland.

If you ever go to Tokyo Disneyland or Disney Sea, please note that you must take the monorail from park to park.  The tickets cost about 250 yen (roughly $3) a ride, so if you think you will use the monorail a few times, I highly recommend that you purchase an all-day pass for 650 yen (roughly $7).

 The beautiful globe fountain right past the entrance.

 Time to go into Disney Sea!  ^_^

 Tower of Terror.  This version is different from the one in Hollywood Studios in Disney World, but the drops are still just as fun!

 Kids playing in the sprinklers.

 Tower of Terror up-close.

USS Columbus.  It has a restaurant inside called The Captain's Table.

 Donald Duck!

 Apple cinnamon popcorn.  I was in heaven with this delicious snack.  I also tried strawberry and caramel.  The park map shows you where you can purchase the different flavors.  I think there are a total of nine different popcorn flavors: curry, caramel, cranberry, apple cinnamon, sea salt, black pepper, strawberry... I forgot the rest.  Have fun exploring!

Disney Sea is absolutely breathtaking.  I enjoyed strolling through each section and watching a few different shows that we happened to stumble upon.  The gift shops are very expensive, so I didn't buy anything from them.  The same souvenirs that you can find in Disney Stores and at any Disney park are available inside, anyway.

I wish Tokyo were closer to Tottori (we had to take a train to Himeji and then jump into the Shinkansen to arrive in Tokyo--that took about 6 hours).  The city life is electrifying, and I found some popular American/Western brands there, like Starbucks, H&M, Forever21, Burger King, L'Occitane En Provence, M.A.C., and The Body Shop.  I'd think twice before purchasing too many items from these stores; many of the prices are higher than what you'd find in the USA.

I hope you enjoyed looking through my pictures and my musings.  'Til next time... Sayonara!