Going to a Japanese Dentist


I’m probably the only person in the world who enjoys going to the dentist. But you know, between running for trains, dashing to the bathroom between English lessons, and constantly being pressured to sing Bowie at karaoke, it’s the only time I can get any rest. Hey, Japan’s an extraordinarily busy place, especially if you do an extraordinary rendition of “Starman.”

I’ve been to the dentist in Japan a total of three times. The first was just to see Thirty-four, who’s this dental assistant in Ueno. She has amazingly nice teeth, which is what attracted me to her. We originally met in a really loud wine bar, and I entered her number into my phone, along with her age, as a note. Then the next morning when I woke up with a massive red-wine hangover, it seemed I’d forgotten to enter her name, so I just called her Thirty-four from then on.

Anyway, I stopped by to pick her up at work, on the way to our date at this upscale kushiyaki place. That’s what the Japanese call a restaurant that charges you two dollars for a tiny bit of fried chicken and onion on a stick. “Come on up,” she texted.

Japanese Dentistry

I took the elevator to the fourth floor. No way Ken Seeroi’s doing any exercise before dinner, especially in a purple shirt. Those really show the sweat, let me tell you. When the doors opened, surprise! there was the dentist, with Thirty-four behind him.

“How’re your teeth?” he asked.

“Like two rows of glittery Chicklets,” I replied.

“Let’s just take a look,” he said, and proceeded to give me a full exam, plus x-rays. Then Thirty-four did her thing. I mean the dental thing. I was getting pretty hungry. Who cleans their teeth before dinner. The Japanese, apparently. That’s a rhetorical question.

The second time I went was a bit of an emergency, which Tokyo Weekender was kind enough to publish here:

I Found a Tooth in a Rice Ball

So you can read that the next time your shinkansen‘s delayed and you’ve got a few minutes. And the third time was to fix the shoddy work the second guy did. All in all though, I’ve been pretty happy with the service here. They’re not great dentists, but they’re fast and cheap, and hey, you gotta pick your priorities. I figure just patch me up so I can inhale a few chickens on sticks and rush off to the karaoke booth. I’m starving, there’s people waiting, and “Changes” ain’t gonna sing itself.

26 Replies to “Going to a Japanese Dentist”

  1. OK, I really don’t like Dentists, but I’ll concede they can be fun with cool nitrous oxide… and hot “34’s”! ALSO, Please don’t eat while driving Ken, unless your texting at the same time (j/k). Hearing about your near wreck did give me some trepidations, so be more careful Sensei!!!

    1. I’m actually pretty careful about driving, and I make it a rule never to text, except at stoplights. Japanese drivers, on the other hand…eating while driving seems to be the rule rather than the exception, as does shaving and putting on your eyeliner. And of course, there’s the ever-present TV screen perched on the dashboard. You’d think they’d arrest you for watching movies while driving, but hey, you’d be wrong.

  2. Ah man…Bud every time I go to post I wipe it clean because of forgetting that captcha code thingy…so u are once again spared my rant about a short story called the Pedestrian by Ray Bradbury…have not read The Moon is a Harsh Mistress just yet.

    Love the mini vacuum at the dentist!

    Anyway glad to see Ken posting more frequently and have told all my (3!!) Aussie pals about this blog and its style.


    1. Thanks again for reading, Alison. Sorry about that Captcha code. It messes me up as well, if that’s any consolation, but without it we’d be overrun with spam. Delicious spam.

      1. Mmm spam! Sliced thinly I could eat the whole damn can like that.

        Hah I am only on a phone and find it painfully tedious to type on it so by the time I have finished my verbose post I am impatient to press the button. I am learning to be more methodical!

        Also u know here in Aust there is a new push for Asian literature and intercultural texts…if u could write a clean little novella or non fiction piece about ur experiences in Japan I am sure it could tick both those boxes for the aust curriculum and u could make some good ol cash out of ur lovely writing style. Or at least help so many young people who yearn to go to Japan to fulfil their anime-inspired fantasies come to some more realistic understanding of the perpetual othering etc.

        I think the insights I have gleaned here have helped me to at least temper my son’s fascination w all things Japanese…so I am grateful for that 🙂

        I used your rhetorical question about learning a language which opens doors and inspires friendliness…like English!

        Like Peter Carey’s Wrong about Japan…so many schools here have taken it on as a text for that reason…

        He comes to the conclusion that it is unkowable as a gaijin.

        I digress.

        Capthca captcha press the bloomin’ captcha buttons now!!

    2. Alison,

      I remember that short story, “The Pedestrian” by Bradbury and I think it was one of the lead-ins to his “Fahrenheit 451” book. It was about a future where no one goes outside anymore and it might have been a comment on people of that time period becoming addicted to watching TVs… And if you find it plausible you could see a direct correlation of that society described in the story to the Hikikomori situation in Japan today. The automated police car does make one think of robotic security devices, some of which are just now being deployed in several locations around the world (like Israel). Bradbury was always way ahead of his time and he loved provocative subject material, but he was never good at HARD science fiction, which being a NASA person I found even more interesting. Still as a visionary, he was almost unparalleled.

      Just read the other day about China planning on instituting a “Citizenship score” for every citizen and tying it to their ID. They plan to use meta-data collected by Alibaba and add in police files and then (version of) NSA records that track all the Chinese social media. I hear they will watch those people whose score falls low and reward higher scores with privileges that might include lower taxes, access to modern housing (like those new cities they are building with no people living in them yet), as well as rights to travel outside the country and invest in other types of market opportunities. They just might be the first country to create Big Brother.

      “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” is a hard book to start reading because it has its own language, which is a mixture of Chinese, Russian Spanish and English. I would recommend reading slowly until you get the subtleties of the writing. I had a great deal of problems reading it at first, but I was determined to get to the end. Good luck on getting there.

      I would advise against watching the “Starship troopers” movie, it’s nothing like Heinlein’s book by the same name. The storyline bears little resemblance to the book. The military aspects of the book are much more accurate and realistic than the movie (which was like WWII combat) and actually dealt with mechanized soldiers like mechas (which is why Japan needs to make a movie version of it). Heinlein was a Naval Academy grad and had a great grasp of military conflict, both strategic and tactical. While I was at the USNA, I saw some of Heinlein’s fencing trophies. Apparently he was a world class fencer and it is also incorporated in some of his books, like “Glory Road”, which is one wild romp of a book.

      BTW, Losing all that you wrote has happened to me several times also; so now, whenever I’m writing a long post, I copy it to “Word” and edit it there and then paste it back before posting the comment and it helps to avoid losing all that effort. Or you could just select some text in the box and hit “CTRL” and the “A” at the same time and then copy the whole highlighted post before you hit the “Post Comment” button. Always renew (using the little circle to the upper right of the box) the “Captcha” code before you post, especially if its been a few minutes.

      1. HI Bud,
        Was further encouraged about Stranger in a Strange Land today when my die-hard sci fi fan colleague whose literary judgement I hold in high esteem exclaimed, “ah that is one of my favourite books of all time!”

        Yes I definitely see the correlation between that story and the Hikkomori issue in Japan. I thought it was reslly interesting to note how the vending machines on every corner in Tokyo alkow the Hikkomori youngsters to access all they need (beer, smokes, soft drink etc) without speaking to anyone late at night and this definitely leads me to lament the continued automisation and atomisation of our communities. Here in Aust. We now have the widespread implementation of computerised checkouts at the grocery stall…I fear for those people whose only daily interactions with others in the purchasing process…

        Pray do tell should u have the time to articulate what you mean by the distinction between “hard” sci-fi and “soft” sci fi…

        I did nit know I was a sci-fi fan and shunned it for so long until I was forced to recognise that my all time fave book 1984 by my all time fave writer Orwell was sci-fi…oh and my god, eho can forget Brave New World??

        Would u classify these as soft sci fi?

        Spooky all that stuff about tying peoples’ scores on a nationalist test to their privileges… particularly in light of what the state can do if they use yiur metadata and social media posts to simoly run a search on whoever they may deem as unnecessary or against the status quo…you would think that as a world we would figure out a way to live all…the horrors of the holocaust and the gulags (and that these are really nit that long ago for us to claim ignorance) would make people more wary about protecting the freedoms that prevent such abuse of information…

        No computer just a dodgy mobile phone lucky really…am trying to tame my tendency to over-write…i am absolutely certain that if I could touch type on this forum you would certainly regret it…

        As David Brent from the Office says “I have soooooo much to say but they just won’t listen!!”

        Will try to keep my posts more overtly connected to Japan…lots of links I can make I am sure.

        Are you in Japan?

        1. Alison,

          Hi, Sci-fi has really come a long way since the golden age of the 1950s. Now you can find mysteries, novels, action, fantasy, love stories and almost all genres contained in the sci-fi field. I personally like sci-fi books that are written like a Tom Clancy book; where there is complexity in the storyline and attention to specific realistic descriptions/details, which is what I refer to as Hard Sci-fi. Soft Sci-fi would be generalized description of the science and less attention to the details that make the story realistic or it could be where the emphasis is put on the social aspects of the story instead of the science.

          There is some overlap between the two definitions and it is not something written in stone, but is a reader’s distinction to determine. What might be soft sci-fi to me might not be the same to you. But in the case of some of the earlier writers, they tried to keep a lot of realistic details out of their stories deliberately because science was changing so much at the time and if a book’s primary gimmick (scientific ideology that the storyline revolves around) is proven false (as in the case of Venus being found to be completely hostile to life) then books written with life on Venus in the future become dated and are no longer read (like Burroughs’ books on Venus). I would say that 1984 is a soft sci-fi book, not to mention the fact that 1984 has come and gone; so it also has become dated, but its concepts are actually closer to becoming reality today than ever before in history… go figure.

          Also, No I’m not in Japan and though I have friends that have travelled there recently, I have only made it to Okinawa years ago. BTW, I became an anime and manga fan through my son (hence my love of Japan and this Blog) and now include Drama from Japan, Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines and China as entertainment from the internet, but have always been a sci-fi fan. Keep reading and thinking and carefully select your dentist!! Your teeth being healthy will help you age well, which is why I would hate to have a Japanese dentist… I think Korea must have some great dentists, their Drama stars have such great pretty Chicklet teeth! (Hmmmmm, hey Ken, do they even make Chicklets anymore??)

          1. Hey Ken,

            I got curious after mentioning chicklets in my last response and looked into it and sure enough, chicklets are still made. I was astonished to read that chicklets were suggested by none other than Santa Anna, you know the Infamous Mexican General that killed all those Texans at the Alamo. Apparently he was a house guest of Thomas Adams (an inventor) while he was in the United States after being exiled from Mexico and had been trying to find a use for “chicle” , made from the sap of the sapodilla tree. He had consigned some to try and make a rubber like substance for tires. All attempts to make a usable product met with failure until Santa Anna mentioned that he often liked to chew the “chicle” and Adams made some into a small balls wrapped in tissue paper and sold it on consignment in drug stores and it became a hit. Unbelievably the first flavor was called “Black Jack” and was made with licorice flavoring. Peppermint white chicklets are now the mainstay, but there all sorts of other flavors now, though they are only made in third world countries. I did find them online to purchase but I haven’t seen them in stores for a while. I remember loving the miniature fruit flavored ones the best. Oh well, you never can tell what you will find out about things when you take the time to look them up… hmmmmm I must have too much free time LOL!

  3. I went to an endodontist back in Australia who was great, and saved two of my teeth, but charged $600 a session (or maybe it was $800 – you try not to remember these things).

    Japan is the only place where I’ve had an examination, and after waiting a while been told that it would come to $2.00 (or the equivalent in Japanese yen).

    The main point about dentists in Japan (apart from the subsidised low cost) is that they never do a complete job in one sitting. They do, like, one third of what you would get in western countries, then send you away, then you come back and they do the next third, and so on. Perhaps this offsets the low price, or it’s a convenient escape from the office for salarymen.

    1. You’re right about the multiple visits. I ended up going to the third dentist three times, with each session lasting about 20 minutes. Why not just do it all in an hour? Ah, the mysterious Orient.

  4. Went to the dentist this morning, it’s about 80€ per caries, 120€ for a teeth replacement. Plus it’s covered at 90% by the insurence 😀

    If it was 800$ (like VEEJAY) i couldn’t go to the dentist. But 3000Yen ? It’s like 20€, cheaper then a mug, I wonder how they can survive with so little money .. maybe they don’t buy mugs ?

    1. Doctors, dentists…most healthcare services are incredibly low-cost here. The service you receive, eh well, that’s another matter. Somehow it reminds me of the shoe-repair guy in the station. I just hand him my worn out shoes, go sit in some slippers on a bench for ten minutes, and when I come back, hey, good as new. Just patch em together and get em out the door. Next.

    2. Hi Grani,

      By the time you need endodontics, they’ve got you in a seriously difficult place – it’s either that or lose the tooth. Ordinary dentists do some endodontic work, but this guy was great at what he did (and I’m glad there are people like that who don’t shoot lions).

      But back to Japan, even where I am, far from anywhere that counts, there seem to be dentists on every street corner. This means you can get in easily, but the service can be pretty ordinary, as Ken says.

      It’s the same with my doctor in Japan – no appointment necessary, just turn up, give them your healthcare card, and wait a while. How long the wait is depends on demand – it can be ten minutes or an hour and a half, but no worse than I’ve endured in Australia, even with appointments.

      Fortunately, my town houses the prefectural university teaching hospital, which means that a reasonably high level of healthcare is available there, if necessary. They even have doctors who speak English, who are somewhat rare in this part of Japan.

  5. Is this like a semi sequal to “going to a japanese hospital”? Man, Ken, it seems like no matter what facility you go to they have a bunch of hot women working there. I can’t wait to go to japan.

    1. There are a lot of hot women here. Well, hot looking anyway. But that’s all that counts, right? Let’s just go with that. But it does make getting your teeth worked on a bit easier.

  6. Japanese dentists get a bad rap from a lot of foreigners but I’ve been happy with my three visits (in 15 years).

    Recently I had pain under a crown – I was terrified that there was something nasty that would involve ripping the crown off.

    The dentist probed it, took five xrays and after 45 minutes admitted he couldn’t find anything. He gave me pain medication and something for a suspected infection. He checked my bite and adjusted the crowns a bit, which was nice but not the problem I was there for. A week later it was fine. Total damage was about 3000 yen.

  7. I just realized something. You often have stories with going on a date with a woman, but it seems like none of them ever finish with sex. Maybe you just don’t like talking about such stuff or want to keep your blog more family friendly (is it possible with all the drinking?), but I certainly don’t remember ever reading this word here. Hey, maybe you did and just forgot.

    So are you up to telling us a dirty story or two?

    1. I think one can easily infer the logical conclusion of his encounters. Sparing the details is in good taste. This isn’t an erotica blog. It always smells like bragging and insecurity to me when people make it a point to state that they banged someone.

    2. You know, yeah, kind of. But two things. One, it sounds like bragging, and although it’s clear to at least me that I’m the world’s greatest lover, it’d probably make some folks uncomfortable. And Ken Seeroi is all about consideration for others; that sensitivity is what makes him such a great lover.

      And two, honestly and I know you don’t want to hear this, but sex with Japanese women isn’t great. They’re very good at looking sexy but, well, did you ever see one of those kit cars where they take a fiberglass Maserati body and bolt it on a Volkswagen chassis? Yeah, well, I don’t know what that has to do with Japanese women, but I’m pretty sure they’d enjoy being seen in one of those cars. So I dunno, I guess I could tell stories about the Maserati’s I’ve driven, but in reality they were mostly just V-dubs.

      1. I laughed so hard at that kit car comment Sensei… thanks for that one. FYI, here’s a new J-drama that centers around a English Conversation School: http://www.dramago.com/japanese-drama/from-five-to-nine . Seemed like it had all the necessary ingredients to entertain you Sensei: women, drinking, eating good food and funny things that happen when you teach English to Japanese. Maybe they should have used you as a consultant Ken! That kit car comparison would have been a great line for their script!! Maybe you can explain to me how a monk can be so wealthy in Japan too, hmmmmm.

        1. Thanks for the drama suggestion, Bud. I watched the first one online yesterday, and then by chance caught the latest episode on TV last night. It’s about as representative a Japanese drama as one could want. Definitely provides some insights into the culture.

    1. Ah, I feel you. That happens in some situations, but not others. I’m looking into what’s causing it. Jeez, this whole web thing—can we just go back to paper? I’ll mail you the next article I write.

  8. Stay away from older Japanese dentists and find the youngest ones you can, particularly ones that have studied in the United States. But even the younger ones probably won’t have equipment that will give your teeth a deep cleaning to remove something as unusual as lets say, green tea stains. The back of my lower teeth were heavily tea-stained and the dentist told me there was no treatment for it so the next time I was in the States I asked for a deep cleaning and came out with teeth as white as snow.

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