Another day in paradise

It’s the day of my medical check-up which allows me to sleep in an extra hour and miss the firs half of the working day. Last week some colleagues were complaining about having to get up extra early to be there on time, which just goes to show how much earlier my working day begins than any of my colleagues’. It’s one of those days where the train decides to take twice as long to reach its destination but thankfully I scheduled in enough time, a hang-up from my London days combined with a morbid fear of being late, and the carriage isn’t crowded.

At the clinic I hand over my bodily fluids, previously collected in the supplied containers and change into an ill-fitting turquoise jimbe, a clinical pajama of sorts, and squeeze into washable slippers several sizes short of comfort. As I sit amongst the throng of salarymen near the wide-screen television in the waiting area Mr. Womaniser comes in. Mr. Womaniser is a colleague, a pretty good, level-headed artist with an unfounded but eagerly promoted reputation for playing the field. He looks very tired. He pops into the changing room and joins me, his jimbe and slippers a perfect fit. It’s quite busy and it takes a good half hour before my name is called out. I make my way to a separate room where I get started off with the hearing test. A male nurse is a little flushed and asks me if I speak Japanese. “Ganbarimsu!” is my usual answer, which means “good luck to me!” and never fails to raise a smile, a laugh even, as it does now. He then proceeds to explain in faltering English how this test works. “Um, um, earphone, um, sound, press, um…” “Yes, yes,” I say in Japanese, “I press the button when I hear a sound.” “Press, button, um…” The tests starts and finished, the nurse telling me “very good!”

Next are the scales, eye test, iris photograph and blood test. For some reason I get nervous when they take my blood pressure. This always happens and as soon as my arms goes into the machine my heart rate skyrockets. It’s a silly thing and usually requires some calming from the nurses and a second try. Not this time. I recon they presume I have high blood pressure. I am told to wait and another half hour goes by as I watch a small television where an old guy is teaching viewers to not eat crap food and go walking once in a while lest you drop dead.

Finally I get to see a doctor, a small, round salaryman type who has the obvious grin of a Japanese man confronted by a gaijin, He has my form in front of him and asks me if I wrote it as the kanji is very good! “No,” I admit, “the wife wrote that. Kanji is beyond me.” He is a little disappointed but not enough to kill his enjoyment of actual gaijin interaction. He asks to listen to my heart so I open my jimbe top and let him have it. He asks me if I sport and though the temptation is there to mention Wii Sports, I decide to answer truthfully. “I thought so,” says he and indicates his stomach and points at mine. Great, a doctor pointing out my little love handles, very comforting and not a little hypocritical considering his own build. But he’s right; I hang my head and agree with him. My brush with physical activity in Japan deserves a post in itself so I won’t go into that right now.

The heart cardiogram, graph, whatever it is, passes uneventfully as does my chest X-ray, save for the technician exclaiming surprise at how tall I am. I’m not really; back home I can be considered short but amongst the Japanese I might be a giant. Next is the dreaded Barium shake. The room is small, filled almost completely by the swiveling table with an office on the side with a window through which the technician will bark his commands. I take the awful powdery stomach medicine, the worst part of it all, and down the Barium without a problem. On the table I’m having a lot of trouble with the commands; I am tired, I can’t understand the Japanese through the distortion of a microphone or the guy’s Japanese is a little too polite for my level. Either way I make him come out of his office to direct my position on one occasion; I have to hold one arm here, one there, legs together to the side, slightly turned on my right but not too much, shoulders here, stomach there. No wonder my Japanese fell short. The table then tilts forward and I momentarily hang upside down. Luckily that’s the end of it and I’m given four laxatives, which I don’t use, and the go ahead to clear off, which I gladly do.

I get to the office around lunchtime. Immediately I am forced to fill in some crazy forms that should have been filled in last week. It’s an annoying status report type affair and the whole team is busy cheating off each other and asking “what did you fill in there?” and “can you PM me that so I can copy it onto my form?” The Barium sits very heavy on my stomach so I decide, unwisely, against lunch. Skipping breakfast is easy as I never eat it, but lunch too? It’s not a problem really, especially as I can look forward to a nice home-cooked meal tonight. It will have to do. Mr. Womaniser comes in an hour after I do, which is odd as he was only 10 minutes behind me at the clinic. But I can’t blame him; he probably took his leisurely time getting back to the office. I am told the girl who does administrative work for our boss and always comes in 45 minutes after me was stuck in front of a locked door, waiting for the next person to arrive with a key, some 60 minutes later. I guess I do have an important function at the office; to unlock the doors and switch on all the lights. Poor girl.

Because I missed the morning I feel strangely compelled to put in extra hours. This is silly, of course, especially since the Barium has reached my gut and it feels like someone punched me in the appendix. Walking is a little painful so I go to the toilets but have no luck there. I decide not to leave too late anyway but sadly I am not quick enough to avoid being given extra tasks for this week. Had I already been gone the tasks would probably have been delegated to someone still present, but alas, they fall to me. I shouldn’t really complain. The task is something different from what I’ve been working on, which is always good for a breath of fresh insight, and if there is one thing I hate more than tedious tasks it’s being bored at work. Besides, I’ve been quite stroppy lately and have a feeling it’s beginning to effect my standing. “Ganbarimsu!” I say with a smile, or a smirk at least, which should ease some possible tension in that area.

The train back is packed fuller than usual. When I get stuffed in with the crowd, as if by some kind of arse-magnet, I get pushed towards a fat, middle-aged guy with a shaved head, save for a small flat-top, who absolutely refuses to make space. He obviously could take a small step sideways which would accommodate most people, but no. He even offers resistance、leaning into the crowd, me, for daring to encroach on his space! In situations like these I do my usual trick: I quickly step aside, as much as possible, so the guy falls towards me. Caught in the act! You were pushing, you arse! He gives me the eye. I impassionedly hold his gaze for a good 10 seconds until he turns away with a “fecking gaijin” look on his face. I see he is wearing sports gloves, possibly golf, as winter gloves. A few stops down a few people get off so I decide to take a few steps away from him. It’s a defeat, maybe, but I was in no mood for a train confrontation today.

Though Flat-top gets off further down the line even more people get on and it’s a real struggle to remain upright. With my thick coat, the heat of the commuters’ bodies all pressed together and the sheer physical effort it takes, holding straps and pushing against metal bars, to not fall over sweat drips off my face and I feel itchy. I get a little claustrophobic and try to clear my mind; just a few more stops. Once I get off I am almost soaked so I wipe my forehead with a tissue which quickly disintegrates.

After a nice meal of home-made oden and potato salad I play the wife in a few rounds of Bomberman 94 on the Wii. She is pretty good, certainly good enough to last several rounds until the playfield is miniscule with falling bricks. As a result I am no gentleman and don’t let her win; I batter her completely and she loses every game. Sometimes I’m a little too competitive, but she appears to be having fun nonetheless. I certainly am! Afterwards we watch a disturbing and dramatic television report about a 21 year old guy in Shibuya killing and dismembering his 20 year old sister. As always with cases like these, which are disturbingly common, the report utilizes dramatic music and shaky close-ups of grainy photographs and sad scenes of flowers left in plastic buckets as a remembrance. At times like these the Japanese are conflicted between their need to gossip and their desire to remain distant from the nastiness so we see presenters conducting interviews with apartment building intercoms as neighbours anonymously gossip on national television. We cut back to the studio where a male and female presenter put on grave expressions and chat to each other about how terrible this is. And terrible it is indeed. It may be because of selective reporting but when crimes occur, which isn’t that usual, they always seem to be of the extreme psychotic kind; random slashing, baby stabbings, serial murder. And Japan collectively tuts and shakes its head but little changes.

The Barium is still coursing through my colon. It’s not so painful anymore but I dread to think of the blockage it has caused for the next time I will try to relieve myself. I guess that is something to look forward to tomorrow. That, of course, and the extra tasks I had shoved upon me today but as I said, at least it’s something to keep me occupied which will make the day go that much faster. I just hope the guy comes to refill our vending machine. He hasn’t been since the new year and it’s almost completely empty now. A drastic situation indeed.

At least I‘m almost over my cold.


  1. Hi! I lurked here from igda and was reading your latest long blog. I traveled to Japan few years ago alone with my broken japanese and planned to avoid all peak hours in train. I heard from a friend who used to study there that the train situation in summer is even worse?! Like sweat...crowd...people who hadn't bathed... is that true?
    I agree with you that the news are strange but common. I was in San francisco listening to nhk news and there was a lot of jisatsu jiken and it goes on like forever since the first case. Disturbingly they are all primary school students who commited suicide due to bullying :( This reminds me of the taiwanese news about their government (which also goes on forever in the chinese news)...anyway
    Hope you get better!

  2. Great story but yeah, you need to start a Japanese Hockey league or something! hahah wouldn't that be great? Oh well, there's always baseball.

  3. quality reading, as usual!

    love the train bits, do you ever feel like you're on the end of some kind of xenophobia in these subway showdowns? In the few times I've been, I sometimes have felt awkard after being on the receiving end of small 'interesting' nuances of behavior (particulary from Japanese males) that are similar to what you describe. This is nothing bad or anything, I just find it interesting!

  4. Dear god, you make reading your stuff so fun!
    Keep at it!

  5. Don't you find it odd when there is some interview with someone involved in a crime on tv but their identity is hidden and their voice masked that the producers always choose some odd squeeky voice that makes the person sound like they have inhaled helium before the interview? It's either that or the other extreme; a voice so deep it makes the film voiceover guy (there is only one, right?) sound like he's just had his nutsack caved in by a fast moving tennis ball.

  6. Powercow, I don't think racism or xenophobia is really an issue on the trains, it's just a handy hook for the idiots to hang their hats on. "Why is this guy pushing me?" (because you're trying to read a broadsheet in a busy train, you idiot) "Ah, a gaijin; it must be because he is a gaijin." (no, it's because you need a kick in the button, mate)
    I have seen two Japanese go at each other too. I guess gaijin like me are less likely to take shit from inconsiderate arses so we find ourselves in these kinds of situations more often, but I don't think we do because we're dealing with xenophobes.

    As for the voices, Andrew, yeah. I don't think I've heard the deep bass ones yet, I usually only hear the squeeky Helium ones. Dogs five streets down hear the squeeky Helium ones.