Going to a Japanese Hospital

Going to a Japanese Hospital

Death is coming for us all.

Not to worry though, because I plan to upload myself to iCloud in anticipation of my eventual robot body. Then we’ll see who has abs of steel. Heh, you can keep your reverse crunches.

In the meantime, since I still need to maintain the meat body, I went to a Japanese hospital. I blame the children, naturally. At lunchtime, they formed a 3-foot high flashmob, pleading “Ken! Ken! Pick me up!” I’m very popular among the under-nine crowd.

“Uhhh . . . it’s Seeroi Sensei, remember?” I said. But all right, they’re only kids, so I gave them a pass. Not like that crusty old Yoshida Sensei, always calling me by my first name and commenting every time I write something in Japanese.

“Wow, you can write the word for ‘today’! Sugo~i, Ken.

“Thanks,” I said. “Normally I just write ‘tomorrow’ the day before, and wait.

Jyouzu,” she replied, “Keep going. You’re almost like a Japanese.

“Ah, my life’s ambition.”

And so I kept going, out to the brown swath of dirt that passes for a school playground in this country, where I picked up a succession of kids, each heavier than the last, until I got to Fat Joe. I don’t know why people say the Japanese are skinny, when I’ve got such a bunch of porkers in my class. Whatever. I didn’t want to make the little guy feel bad, on account of his morbid obesity, so I put my hands under his arms and gave him a solid heave ho.

“Jeez, what’ve you been eating?” I groaned.

“I like donuts,” he replied.

“It was a rhetorical question, kid.

“Oh,” he said.

After that, something just didn’t feel right, so I went back inside and took a trip to the restroom. Sure enough, there was a bulge in the groinal region, and not the good kind either. Now, I’m not a doctor, but I think I know a hernia when I see one. Fat Joe had done me in. People talk a lot about child abuse, yet you rarely hear about adult abuse, which is strange.

The Japanese Medical Exam

Since I had nothing better to do than sit in a hospital all day on a sunny Saturday, that’s what I did. You know how punctual the trains in Japan are? Well, they save up all that time and use it against you at the hospital. It took like six hours before the doctor finally called me in.

“Did you come by yourself today?” he asked.

I looked around. “I believe so,” I said.

“What seems to be the problem?

“I think maybe I have a hernia,” I said.

“Okay,” he said.

We sat there in silence for a while. It seemed like somebody should’ve been talking.

“I guess I, uh, should have some sort of operation?” I ventured.

He checked something on what I believe is the last functioning MS-DOS computer. The screen lit up with the brilliance of sixteen different colors. “Okay,” he said. “How’s next Thursday?

“Fine by me, I guess.

“Okay, see you then.”

And that was it. No examination, no Turn your head and cough, just See ya Thursday, Ken. Easier than making plans for lunch.

On the way out, the nurse told me to come on Wednesday for some complicated Japanese medical stuff that amounted to poking and prodding, so on Monday, I went to school and requested three sick days.

“So you’ll be in the hospital Thursday night, and also on Friday?” asked my supervisor.

“That’s right. The unfortunate result of playing with children.

“Well, you can use two sick days,” he said, “but you’ll have to take Wednesday as a vacation day.

“Vacation?” I stammered. “We get ten sick days a year, and in 3 years I’ve never used one.

“But the operation isn’t till Thursday.

“I’m having a medical procedure,” I said, “not going to the beach. I can’t just show up at the hospital Thursday morning.

“Hmm, I’ll need to contact HR,” he said.

And that was it, the seal of death. Contacting HR, like Go ask your Father, consulting scripture, and praying to Santa, is just a way to insulate oneself from delivering bad news. Sure enough, later in the day he came back, along with a guy in a stained gray suit, and we all sat down to discuss what amounted to: Vacation day or nothing. Well Seeroi, at least you know where you stand, I figured, so that’s something. Now get back out to the fields and pick that lettuce.

So on Wednesday, I went to the hospital for my vacation. If Yoshida Sensei was impressed by my writing ability, she would have been floored by my capacity for bluffing through stacks of forms, randomly checking boxes for diseases I did and did not have, and bravely agreeing to donate several organs. See ya later, appendix.

Then I went around to various rooms where they took measurements, blood, sweat, and tears, until I finally reached the anesthesiologist.

“We need to be very precise in the amount of anesthetic we give you,” she said.

“That sounds like a good idea,” I agreed.

“So how much do you weigh?” she asked.

“46 kilograms,” I said with great confidence. “No, wait. 76? No, 74. I think. What’s that in pounds again?

“I’ll put down 74,” she said.

That evening, I didn’t exactly have a real good feeling about the whole thing. What kind of hospital doesn’t use a scale? And the doctor hadn’t even looked at me once. I decide to shave the left side of my groinal region, so at least they wouldn’t operate on the wrong side. Then I weighed myself: 76 kilograms. Must’ve been all those damn potato chips. Well, close enough, I figured. Finally, I took a ballpoint pen and drew a dotted line across the area that needed to be operated on. I’m very helpful like that.

When I got to the hospital the next morning, they sold me a special pair of underwear for 300 yen, put me on a gurney, stuck an IV into my arm, and wheeled me into the operating room. The doctor was sitting there, legs crossed, reading a paperback novel.

“Good morning,” I said in Japanese.

“Oxygen,” he said, in English, and somebody put a mask over my nose and mouth. It was the first and only word of English anybody’d spoken to me at the hospital, and I wondered why he chose that exact moment to remind me that I was different. But then everything went strange, then blurry, then black.

Next week, Back from the Dead.



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48 Comments

  1. Well, I hope that this is in fact Seeroi Sensei writing here and not some joker collecting all the google ad rewards while the late Sensei rots in a casket. What a cruel joke that would be.
    In any case, was your vacation really that horrific? I spent a year in Himeji (2007) and during that time I had to visit the dentist for root canal and a tooth extraction. That was quite pleasant but work apparently didn’t think it was a vacation. I also apparently wiped shit into a scratch on my leg which of course became infected so I visited a hospital to get some meds. I blame the deer down in Miyajima for that one. All good again. I have a feeling you headed to the wrong hotel during that vacation of yours.

    Now, just a couple of questions and background. A few months back I started to take my study in Japanese seriously. I am using iKnow.jp for vocabulary and sentences and entering those words / sentences into Anki. I get through about 20 new words and close to 40 sentences a day. I thought that learning Kanji in context (the way that iKnow.jp dishes them up to you) would be a better way than learning Kanji in isolation with just on and kun readings. So far all is going well. After I have entered the new content into Anki, I review all flashcards by writing all the Kanji down in a notebook. I also bought some Japanese graded readers and have gotten through level 0 and 1 easily. Waiting now on the next three sets for level 2 to arrive. Now here is my question: Would it be worth my while starting up with the books Kanji in Context? If I use the accompanying workbooks, I can add a pile of sentences to my Anki library and get a lot closer to that 10,000 sentence goal while also getting used to all the readings for each kanji. Have you or anyone who reads this site used Kanji in Context? Also, I was thinking of just working my way through A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar and then the Intermediate and Advanced books. I know any strategy may work, but I am new to this and I feel like stuff is working but I am just not sure. I also got my hands on the Pimsleur Phase 1 series from my local library and I am happily shadowing everything they say in there on my way to work. Damn I wish my commute was longer. Would people recommend this strategy?
    I have just hit 41and I have been fortunate enough to win a place to study in Kanazawa for a month (starting in April) while doing a homestay. I will try and put my studies to work.

    Thanks for the great blog by the way. Just started reading it a couple of days ago. Great find.
    I hope you are on the mend.

    • Congratulations on being able to study in Kanazawa. I never understood why black people have their own Christmas, but I’m cool with it nonetheless.

      As for your specific questions, let me say first of all that I think you’re on your way to success, regardless of the specific path you choose. Enthusiasm and persistence are the most important things. What you study is far less important than the fact that you study something, anything, regularly.

      And on that point, I’d like to advance the notion that method is deceptive. It’s very easy to say, “I did this. If you follow the same steps, you can get here too.” But I haven’t seen that to be the case. Some people follow the exact same pattern and get poor results. Unfortunately, we’re all wired in different ways, so what works for others may not work for you.

      In the end, if you find a method that works for you, and you’re making progress, stick with it. If not, try something else, but keep going, always.

  2. Hi Ken, I hope all is well. Whenever I see that you’ve posted a new article, I stop whatever I’m doing and read it. In this case, I paused an old Star Trek Voyager episode on YouTube JUST AS the Borg were making their move. Your story reminded me of the time I went alone to a hospital in Gifu to have a mole looked at. I always enjoy your stories!

    • Thanks for reading my stuff, always. Don’t worry, I’m pretty sure the Borg don’t win. As for me, I’m right as rain, like the 6-Million Dollar man. Unfortunately due to inflation, 6 million doesn’t buy much these days. Still, the ability to run for the train at a blazing five miles an hour is proving quite helpful.

      • i do the same. When I see your post in my feed, I stop whatever I am doing to read. Wish you did more often. Love love love reading your stuff.

        • Wow, I don’t know what to say. But thanks a lot. Guess I should write more. But I should do more of a lot of things, like laundry and dishes, and probably shave once in a while too. And also do less of a lot of things, like drinking beer and chatting up women. Balancing competing demands really isn’t my best thing. I guess what I really need is some exercise to make me a better person. Sorry, I meant exorcise. Darn spell-check.

  3. Itsallgonepearshaped

    Last September I had the misfortune to go in the sea down at Zushi, within about 30secs of entering the water, I was “bitten” by something on my foot. I say “bitten” but later I figured out I was actually stung. Anyway, I staggered out of the water in incredible pain. I knew it wasn’t an urchin or jellyfish having had nothing of those stings before. I could barely walk the pain was so great, and half an hour later it wasn’t getting any better. We left the beach being helped by the missus because I couldn’t walk properly. We tried getting a taxi to the hospital, but they all took one look at us and moved on. We eventually got to a chemist who told us the local hospital was closed (Yasumi). I mean who would want to get ill on a holiday eh?
    Still in incredible pain, we took the decision to go back to Tokyo on the train and get a taxi from there.
    So, 3 hours later, in the hospital ER, waiting to see a doctor. People with coughs were being seen before the serious cases. An old lady who kept passing out in her wheel chair was just left. Me almost in tears from the pain sent my wife to play hell with them as they seemed to just concentrate on the good looking girls with the coughs.
    Anyway, when I eventually got seen, a couple of “Doctors” proceeded to have a discussion about what had bit me, they even started to use google to show me pictures. But I had no idea. By this time (5-6hrs after I’d been “bitten”), a kindly nurse had put my foot in a bath of hot water which had helped immensely. The “Doctors” just put a bit of steroid cream on the albeit minuscule cut and sent me home. Didn’t even bother cleaning the wound. It hurt like hell for several days, and still hurts several months later.
    I only found out the next day what it was – a Stingray. Ask anyone what the pain is like when you get stung by one and it’s like nothing else.
    So moral of the story, don’t get ill on a holiday, and don’t bother with the hospitals in this country. I’d tell you about the time my mother had a bad fall and the ambulance men stood having a discussion about which hospital to take her too while she kept passing out on the floor, but I’d start really having a go at the health system in this country. As a child of the NHS, I find it difficult to adjust to paying for treatment, so maybe it’s just me.

    • Yeah, that sounds about right. I believe the proper emergency procedure is to take a taxi to the nearest airport and fly to Korea. That’d be faster.

      Japan’s got restaurants and shops open 24×7, but after business hours the hospitals and drugstores are almost universally closed. You really should just stay in bed evenings and weekends, to avoid injury.

      The famous Japanese efficiency that created bullet trains and conveyor-belt sushi restaurants seems to have missed the health care system. And anyone who thinks Japan is high-tech should really have a look at the stunning 1960’s technology that underpins the nation’s hospitals.

      I’m happy that we have some national health insurance, but still, it’s a scary, scary country to get sick in.

      • Great topic to post on although unfortunate circumstances behind the posting. I hope you’re much much better Ken.

        The lack of emergency processes is scary and difficult to get used too. However, I’ve found that if you’re not comfortable with one doctor or hospital, go to another as you’ll likely have a different experience. There’s a mixed bag of doctors here (for both my care and the care of elderly parents). I’ve found there are just as many amazingly caring health care professionals as there are incompetent ones. But just try not to have an emergency on the weekend or holiday.

    • wow, stingrays. Ive seen them stranded, up in canals just cruising like they are lost. Must of been very painful. Hospitals in Japan; well all I can say is dont get any serious illness in Japan. I was told by one “sensei” to get out of his office because he couldnt speak English. Trying to get post care for any treatment, its hard to trust them because they dont want to make any mistakes. Recently, I knew a guy who had a stroke and they just put him in this room, he died latter. If your a foreigner, I wouldnt put my trust in them at all.

  4. Hey, I was recovering from a herniated disc in my back this very time last year. The special hell was enhanced by the sciatica that created electrical shocks of pain through my entire right side. I fe(lt) your pain and hell for sure — could barely walk or stand or sit, just be a beached whale — down to the sick days vs vacation days. That made it way rougher. Did you have a lot of people say, Ah yes, I’ve had that happen to me, too?, a herniated disc? Because a disturbing number of people seemed to have it happen to them, and here we are, so young, already suffering like this. I think mine happened from coughing so hard in the dry winter air that I vomited twisted over.

    Anyway, I’d like to add that here in the countryside, I had different healthcare experience. Sure, the first time I went to a day clinic, they barely looked at me and said probably sciatica, come back if it gets worse, but when I went to the hospital a few days later, I met with a doctor who spoke and joked in English, and I was quickly given an MRI and diagnosed (without much of a wait) within a couple hours. Asked for pain medication but said I don’t want anything addictive — they said, “Funny, we don’t have that problem here” and prescribed suppositories. (…)

    Luckily for me?, they never thought it was terrible enough to warrant surgery, just long months of suffering and the soft suggestion that staying home to rest might work. Employer said, “No vacation days unless you are in the hospital overnight,” so I eventually stayed in the hospital a week, and thank goodness for this insurance — it was less than $400 for a week, food and MRI and epidural and all.

    What helped, in the end, were those two epidural injections I had – and the calm nurses and doctors against my stressed, terrified, exhausted self.

    I felt really well taken care of, and my results and care were quicker than when I had to go to the Mayo Clinic for an ovarian cyst explosion, or when I had MRIs in the US, which were $3000 (vs $50) and took two weeks to get results back from (versus 30 minutes).

    I know that staff is stretched in Japan, but I just didn’t find any of the horror stories happened to me, and when I was suggested to go to the US for care, I shook my head and was glad I didn’t – I could be paying that off for years versus one month.

    I never had surgery, but know someone who had surgery after suffering a year here. He woke up without agonizing pain for the first time the morning after. I was a mess until my second epidural injection.

    I was lucky to have quick, calm doctors; affordable care; ample paid sick and vacation leave (the vacation days eventually became sick days in the end); Japanese ability; and the ability to hold a job while on the brink of death.

    Hope these perspectives help people going through the same thing.

    • Also, I realize you might be talking about the English version of hernia, but in Japanese a herniated disc = ヘルニア all the same.

      • That’s right. It’s the same word in both Japanese and English, but often in Japan people are referring to back problems, whereas my hernia was in the groinalogical region. It’s a medical term.

        Anyway, I’m glad you’re okay, and got medical care without having to take out a home mortgage. Funny that when people talk about the cost of life in Japan versus the U.S., this doesn’t seem to come up much.

        • Yeah, I’ll get to thinking, “Some parts of the US are safe enough, and the likelihood of being shot is very low, and yeah, it’ll be okay to return – the US will work out in this and that way” until I imagine, “What if I had a huge medical problem? And isn’t that a _when_ for most people as age goes on? How will I afford my care?” and then all my securities and plans screech with the sound of impending doom.

          Hope you’re all right and recovering. I’ll stay tuned.

  5. PPS: “So on Wednesday, I went to the hospital for my vacation” really made me laugh. Thinking I would be paralyzed with the needle going into my spine that first epidural day? Best vacation day ever, I said. Best vacation ever. God, did that make me bitter.

  6. I’m so looking forward the continuation of this story… I have my husband back home with pain of a hernia surgery gone wrong… and starting to think if the best option is to bring him here and have a second surgery here.
    Back home he heard stories of “it’s psicological, it can’t hurt”, to “it might go away eventually” (this after a year in pain) and with very painfull check ups every time.
    Please please please keep writting 🙂

    • Having been to the hospital a dozen times in Japan, and countless times in the U.S., I struggle to say which is best. But yeah, next week I might look at the pros and cons a bit.

      • Yeah, I do believe the Japanese system of covering 80% of the expenses is a pretty good balance. Although here too there’s no shortage of people queued up at the hospital because they’ve got a cough.

  7. Reminds me of that one time I went to the hospital after puking a bit of blood in the subway’s bathroom (how I wish we had those in France, instead of drunks peeing on the wall). The ER itself was OK (it was nighttime so there was only a nurse in training to draw blood but despite her shaking she managed not to tear any vein), and during the waiting time between the MRI and being told that the blood was not from my stomach or shit and just my throat getting hurt from the violence of the retching I called my insurance to know what I needed to do in order to get what was possible of those ¥50,000 back. They asked me for a copy of the bill and a certificate stating what I came for, what exams they did and what was the result, stating that one sentence per item was plenty enough. I (my wife, actually, it was my first month in Japan) then asked to the doctor for that paper. The doctor answered (my wife translated actually, my japanese didn’t improve in those 15 seconds) that we needed to take an appointment next week because he wasn’t habilitated. OK. We did.

    Next week we came all full of hope. We waited for about one hour (I won’t complain, it seems to be the same in all public hospitals around the world), and then the doctor saw us. I explained what we needed (my wife translated), and he answered something in japanese. I saw my wife looking weirdly at me and understood that she was afraid I wouldn’t behave, like I sometimes did when I got the feeling that we were being fucked by somebody with a bit of power (I quit after the second month in Japan, they are stronger than me). Turns out, the doctor didn’t want to sign that three lines paper because this was a first visit and he needed one more appointment to examine me and one more to make the paper. Seems you can do only one thing at a time. Rationalization of work I guess. Anyway, after arguing for far more long than it would have taken to sign that goddamn paper, I lost and came back home empty-handed. Then I called my insurance. And being french, they said that I didn’t need to go back there one more time and that something could be worked out, quite surprised by so much rigidity and, I strongly suspect, amazed by the witnessing of the legendary japanese efficiency.

    • Glad you got that worked out. I’ve noticed that Japanese doctors (and dentists) like you to make multiple visits. I’ve no idea why, but it really plays hell at work, since getting time off requires a minor act of God.

      And yeah, any country that doesn’t provide public toilets is off my list of travel plans, and that includes the U.S. I mean, taking care of people’s basic physical needs is the very least one should expect from a society.

      • My dentist says that Japanese people don’t like long appointments (maybe because dentists don’t feel inclined to use anesthesia) so that’s why they divide them into many 30-minute visits. You can ask for longer appointments with the dentist and they will book for you if the schedule allows.

        • Funny you should mention that. I went to the dentist a couple of days ago, and was in and out in faster than you could get a Domino’s pizza. Japanese people don’t like to screw around, is my strong impression. They just get you in, do what needs to be done, and shuffle you out. I don’t entirely mind it, but it does leave you feeling a little empty, somehow. Maybe that’s just me though.

      • You should just do it like me and use McDonald’s for your public toilet needs. I always say it’s the greatest franchise of public toilets all over the world! Saved me a couple times already, especially in Italy

        • Oh, I’m with you. Just viewing the golden arches triggers in me a fierce need to urinate. From this I’ve learned that one really must be careful what one gets conditioned to. Don’t even mention Burger King.

  8. お大事に!

    This somehow reminded me of a book called 病院で死ぬということ (Dying in a Japanese Hospital). All I know about the book is its title, but… glad you have made it alive… so far 😛

    On a completely unrelated note, how did you manage to find a Super Cub so cheap? I cannot find anything below 10万円 and considerably old. In one of the shops, the guy said that it was semi-automatic (you change the gears but there is no clutch to worry about). Is yours full manual?

    Take care!

    • Maybe I was just lucky. It probably helps to buy yours from a prefecture where a lot of folks drive scooters though. Speaking Japanese might expedite things a bit as well.

      The Super Cub, my dear friend, has been sold. It was, however, semi-auto, with no clutch, as you describe. I believe they all are.

      • I Googled again after leaving this comment and managed to find some models for around 9万円 on GooBike. These are all in Tokyo so I would have to ride them back to Yokohama via Route 1 in case I got one. I am not sure I would want one now, though. I thought they were fully manual so I was meaning to get one to practice on it before attempting the 中型 test next summer.

        Oh, the SC is gone? What made you decide to sell it? What’s your impression of it as a motorcycle. I guess it’s still better than those small scooters.

        • I sold the Cub because my work situation changed and I had to commute on bigger roads. Hugging the curb at 23 mph in high-speed traffic became too dangerous, so I finally got a car. I loved the Cub. It had a retro clunkiness to it, and was reliable as hell.

          There is a more motorcycle-y version of the Cub, that has a clutch, yet is still 50cc. I think it’s called the Honda 50 (Suzuki makes one too), and it might suit your needs rather well, if you could find it. I’ve seen two.

  9. Heh, that pretty much sums up what happened in my case. Operating on white people is right up there with having a black friend.

  10. Seeroi sama, I was very happy to see your next post, and you didn’t disappoint. Thanks for keeping us up to speed and being one of the funniest natural writers I get to read. Can’t wait to find out if you made it through or will be writing from your robot body and dodging large can openers in the near future. Cheers!

  11. Great blog! I linked through the Japan News article. Just out of curiosity, where can I find an explanation of “Japanese rule of 7”? Seven what?

    BTW, that bit about writing “today” and “tomorrow”? Cute, but don’t you find that most Japanese are not cynical enough to get that sort of thing?

  12. I was diagnosed with cancer in Japan and my daughter, as an infant, had a serious operation. There is the good and the bad … I know that statement is the furthest thing from profound or even interesting but I hope to make it back here when I have more time to write.

  13. Ken! Are you alright!? Getting operated in Japan must be frightening, especially when you’re left in the dark like that! I guess it’s a good thing you drew that dotted line, huh? That really sucks about the sick days, too… I guess it’s because in Japan no one really uses their sick days, almost to the point where no one even knows how to fill out the sick day form.

    It’s hard to say what’s worse: USA or Japan. I liked Japan because health insurance wasn’t such a bother, but they also tend to just prescribe you a bunch of pills without really explaining what’s wrong with you. I also like how personable doctors are in the USA, and they tend to go into detail about what’s wrong with you and explain it step by step (in that lovely private room you get, unlike Japan). I guess that’s why US healthcare costs 500x more.

    Anyway, hope you’re doing ok! Interesting read as always.

  14. Hey Ken,

    This posting really brings back memories. Just a few years ago, I also had a hernia operation and it did kill me… no really it did… twice. It seems my lungs collapsed and then my heart stopped a second time after they resuscitated me the first time. It turned out that they were giving me too much anesthesia (they let a trainee from Mexico dose me) as the two Pakistani doctors (one was also a trainee) do the operation. US hospitals are not so good anymore, I believe!! When I woke up, it felt like I’d been kicked in the chest by a Clydesdale and then someone stuffed a concrete block down my throat. Then I found I couldn’t think or talk right anymore. It took about a month before I could make sense and pretend to be normal, but there still is a lingering slowness in my thinking and its hard to remain focused on task. BTW, the doctors never told me what happened, but we had a family friend that was a nurse in the next operating room when I DIED, and she told me what really happened about 6 months later after she had retired (so they couldn’t retaliate against her). I never did sue them, but just so you know… coming back from the dead is no picnic!! May you recover from this operation well and bless us with your words and wisdom soon. Best wishes to your continued success as a writer and as a Sage Extraordinaire!!

    P.S. I think this is the real me or so I tell myself, that is if I am to be believed. Argggg dere’s da rub!

  15. Last year I sprained my ankle playing football, and it blew up to about double its size. I couldnt drive to work, so I called in sick. The teacher on the other end explained that I couldnt have a sick day unless I went to the doctors to get a note.

    I didnt have the energy to explain the irony of the situation.

    Great post as always. Started tackling Kanji a month ago after reading one of your earlier posts about how important it is. One day I too will be complemented over my ability to write Kanji 5 year olds can manage

  16. A lot of long stories in the comment section. Guess people had tons of weird and not very fun experiences with hospitals. Which reminds me, I should probably visit a dentist while I still have teethes.

    By the way, isn’t this suppose to have some sort of a continuation? It is like ending a TV series without properly showing what happened to the main character/s. I guess it might have been what you were going for, but it leaves us with questions. What did they think of the drawings on your body? Did the guy was able to both read and operate on you at the same time? Are we sure that they didn’t confuse the oxygen with something else, because of language barriers? You know, totally legit stuff like that.

    • Ahh I know, give me a few more days. Been busy with some, uh, stuff. Which is basically beer, girls, and laundry. You know, life stuff. I really gotta do less laundry.

  17. When I worked in Japan my company strongly encouraged all employees to take some ridiculous annual health checkup. I politely refused only to be interrogated at great length by the Japanese staff and management on why I opted out. Then came peer pressure followed by scare tactics (if you don’t do this you might have stomach cancer and not know it!). One employee said to me this was the first time he ever saw someone opt out of this health check.

    Reading about how Japanese hospitals are run I am glad I opted out.

  18. Where’s the next part Ken? Write soon, please. 🙂

  19. Ken, is there any way you can Twitterize those folks so they don’t post tomes?

    Really, they should be spending their time studying kanji, not posting.

    • Not sure exactly what Twitterizing is, but it sounds like work, to which I’m opposed on moral grounds. Anyway, I’m cool with people posting about their own lives and experiences so long as it adds to the discussion, even if it’s a bit lengthy. Once in a while I’ll read something really amazing, and that makes it worth it.

  20. I don’t know why you keep joking that you are out of shape and overweight throughout your blog…..76 kg is not heavy at all….that 167 ibs.

    • Ah, you know, it’s all relative.

      I was a pretty big athlete before I moved to Japan. I’m not saying I had the body of a young Adonis, but, eh, at least I had nice hair. Then Japan happened. I moved to a country where food’s plentiful, cheap, and delicious, drinking is a hobby, and every izakaya is a virtual language institute. Plus those fucking Calbee’s potato chips, jeez. All that plus working till nine at night really did a number on my fitness.

      Then also being surrounded by Japanese dudes who consume less daily calories than a supermodel, man, it’s enough to give a guy a complex. So yeah, I’m not fat by any American standard, but I’d still like to drop a few kilos. I got a story about that actually—I’ll write it up one of these days.

  21. Hi Ken,

    This is only tangentially related to the post, but how would one go about visiting a friend in a Japanese hospital? Gifts aside, is there any specific procedure to go about doing it? Are there any guides online you recommend? All I see are pages about what gifts to bring.

    • I visited one friend in a Japanese hospital, and it was no different that doing so in the U.S. I just walked up to his room and went in (his wife told me the room number). If anything, Japanese hospitals seem less concerned with controlling the flow of visitors than those in the U.S. I guess if he was in the ICU or something it would be different. I didn’t take a gift.

  22. My apologies for the following long post, but I was recently in hospital for several weeks in Japan for surgery to my leg, and some of my experiences may be helpful for others who need to be hospitalised in Japan. But it’s just my stay at one hospital – things are likely to be different elsewhere.

    Being an in-patient in Japan was about 95% the same as being an in-patient in Australia (my home country). You are expected to be waiting around, probably in bed whether you want to be or not, available to doctors and nurses at any time of the day or night (although Japanese patients do tend to wander the hospital in their pajamas!). You have to adjust to new food and a new routine. Previously personal activities like washing and using the toilet are no longer private, but are suddenly of great interest to people you’ve never met before. This was the same in Japan as it is in Australia.

    What follows here is mostly the other 5% that was markedly different from hospital that I had experienced in Australia. The hospital I had surgery in in Japan was the major teaching hospital attached to a university medical school in my prefecture (far from Tokyo). I am comparing it with a similar teaching hospital in Australia.

    Not much English spoken: During my stay, I interacted with maybe 20 or so different nurses, nurses’ aids, therapists, technicians, and receptionists on a regular basis. Generally, it was Nihongo the whole way. On the other hand, Japanese nurses deal every day with Japanese patients who due to age or illness are not able to understand or reply easily, so they become really good at communicating (they repeat questions, use simple language, wait for answers, etc). Also, it’s mostly the same questions every day, so you learn the drill.

    You may check-in very early: My surgery was scheduled for Tuesday afternoon They wanted me to check-in two days before surgery, not one, so they could run tests (blood, x-ray, ecg – all apparently obligatory) plus have meetings with the surgeon, registrar and anesthetist. But that’s two working days, not Saturday and Sunday, so check-in was initially scheduled as Friday for Tuesday surgery (four days later). I managed to get this changed to Monday morning check-in, and there was no major problem with the tests, meetings, etc.

    It may be a longer stay than you anticipated: My doctor wouldn’t say how long I would be in hospital after surgery, although he did say my leg would need to be a week or more in a cast, and then in a brace. I thought I would be in hospital a few days after surgery, then sent home to sort things out for myself, and come back for the brace. It turned out I was almost five weeks in hospital. At first, I was more or less confined to bed. I could stand (sort-of) beside the bed, but going anywhere further meant getting into a wheelchair. I gradually got more active.

    I really wish the doctor had been more up-front with me about the length of the hospital stay, as I could have prepared better knowing how long I would be in. I think it is part of the culture of not telling patients in advance anything which might frighten them.

    You need a guarantor: As well as all the usual forms for going into hospital, you have to find someone to go guarantor to pay your hospital bill if you don’t. I’m sure this is a pain for many Japanese people, but more so for a single foreigner without family in Japan. There didn’t seem to be any automatic alternative, such as lodging a security deposit, etc. I had to call on a Japanese friend, but it was something I would have rather taken care of myself.

    The room: I was able to get a private room with its own washstand and toilet (though I wasn’t able to use it for two weeks due to my operation). The cost of the room was around 6,500 yen per day (not covered by insurance). It had a small refrigerator, air conditioning and television (no English, not even NHK bilingual news). No internet – neither LAN cable nor wifi. Nevertheless, I thought it was good value.

    The bed, etc: The bed was a standard hospital bed, although very narrow, with removable railings on the sides. This was similar to Australia, including a not-so-comfortable foam mattress. However, the sheet only got changed once a week. There was no upper sheet, but a light comforter/duvet, and what looked like a large white bath towel, but actually functioned as an upper sheet/blanket. This all actually worked quite okay, but the pillow was the Japanese bean-bag style sack of small semi-solid lumps. If that’s going to be a problem, bring your own pillow.

    Japanese food: Definitely several notches better than hospital food in Australia. Please note, however, that it was mostly Japanese-style, with little choice. Usually Japanese soup of different kinds came with every meal, and fish was common. This meant that there might be soup with radish and onion and a piece of fish with a bowl of rice for breakfast. Anything vaguely western (omelette, spaghetti, sausage) was tasteless and came with either a dollop or light coating of ketchup/tomato sauce, but the Japanese-style food was good. Every meal came with a bowl of white rice, but it was possible to take the alternative “bread” option (same meals, but with two thick slices of white bread three times a day).

    Medications: If you are taking any medications, bring them plus your dosage information. The nursing staff will take them, and dole them out to you in little containers every day. Conversely, if you have any non-prescription medications, bring a good supply and keep them separate. If you hand them over, you will lose control over them.

    Sponge baths: When I came out of surgery, I was not able to shower or bathe, and I got the Japanese sponge bath, which was a complete body rub-down with hot towels by a nurse (I kept thinking “There are people who would pay big money for this!”). For some reason, the hot-towel for private parts is fluorescent yellow.

    Bring your own eating utensils: The hospital food arrived on lots of little plates and in little bowls, as elsewhere in Japan. However, I needed to bring my own eating utensils (chopsticks, knife, fork and spoon, sharp knife, etc) and a cup for ocha to be poured into. It’s best to have your own chopsticks/eating utensils box, as those things will all be rattling around without it.

    Other things to bring: I was told to bring several sets of paper underpants for after the operation. I didn’t think I’d need them, but the staff issued them to me. It did make changing clothes easy for the nursing staff for a day or so after the operation, and you may have a catheter and drip inserted, and various things attached when you come out of the operation.

    Bring a few towels, but don’t go overboard, especially if you can get them washed and dried quickly. The hospital also seemed keen on non-slip shoes – running shoes are fine.

    There was no internet in the hospital for patients, and I don’t have any wireless connectivity, so I made sure I had lots of reading material and some videos downloaded. I also arranged for a print newspaper to be delivered. Unfortunately, I became addicted to snacks that I don’t normally eat, and I think I came out of hospital a few pounds heavier than I went in.

    What not to bring: The hospital supplied clean pajamas every day for a small fee. This isn’t the custom in Australia, and I’d thought I’d bring my own, but I was persuaded to use the hospital pajamas by some Japanese friends, and it was definitely the right decision. Almost all Japanese patients used the hospital pajamas, so I didn’t look out of place, and there was no problem of cleaning or running short. Nevertheless, if I had brought my own, there were some coin-operated washers and driers not far away.

    Pay by the month: I was billed by the calendar month, which meant a Japanese friend having to do some running around organising insurance midway during my stay (I think it goes like this – you take the bill to your insurance office, they issue a certificate saying they will pay their share, then with that you pay 30% up-front. Like many financial transactions in Japan, it seems needlessly complicated).

    That’s it. All in all, my hospital stay was a positive experience – perhaps not fully reflected in my comments here

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