Fear and Loathing the Tokyo Hospital Scene, or

Marcus Welby, M.D.: Alive and Well, and Practicing in Yotsukaido


Carl Winderl

© Copyright 2016 by Carl Winderl

Photo of a Japanese hospital sign.

This piece is for all those Bostonians who must have been living in Tokyo while I was living in Japan, for a year or so, just outside of Tokyo, about an hour east of it.

Whenever I’d go in to Tokyo, it seemed to me that all the Americans I saw there must have been Bostonians. Only rarely would I ever see anyone I knew for sure was a bona fide1 tourist. The rest, I was certain, were from somewhere in New England – or most assuredly from Boston itself.

It had to be them, to coin a paraphrase. I mean, really, who else but New Englanders are notorious for being cold, impersonal, even obnoxiously unfriendly, on a good day. On most days, regionally proud of it. And on a bad day, who else goes out of their way to be rude. But I’ve changed, largely because of my experiences in Japan. So, surely if you’d seen me there – trying to catch some fellow American’s eye, ready to say hello, or offer directions, help in some way, if needed . . . yes, that would have been me.

I’d have been that overly-friendly American. I’m talking about those many times when I went into Tokyo from Yotsukaido (wakarimaska?2 Yoats - kye - dough. That little burg out on the Sobu3

1Latin for “good for nothing.”

2Japanese for “Do you understand?” By the way, all Japanese words in this piece will be written in Romaji, that is, the English alphabet’s attempted approximate phonetic replication of one of the Japanese writing systems – either the hiragana or the katakana alphabets, or the pictographic Chinese character-based Kanji, although you could probably blithely ignore these helpful footnotes and still live a fulfilled life. But, it just wouldn’t be the same.

3one of the many Tokyo train lines, but the one in particular I rode to and from Tokyo.

Line near to Narita4 – it was the blur just before or just after Mori5 . . . depending on which you faced, coming or going that is). Anyway, those obvious American tourists always kept their eyes guarded, averted, a little to the side when they walked down the street, just like they did always when they were back home – in Boston. So I could never quite make eye contact and smile to say hello – because I was pleased and glad to see another gaikokujin’s6 face.

Out there in Yotsukaido, if I didn’t look in a mirror, gaze longingly at my wife, or track down my son or daughter, I wasn’t likely to see another gaikokujin for a long time. Like not until the next time I went into Tokyo.

That probably should explain why I’m so friendly now that I’m back home in the States. And to think, all those friendly times then most folks no doubt thought I was just another tourist.

Since those ‘real’ tourists in Japan didn’t respond to my overtures, they certainly would not have done what I did back then: seek medical care in a hospital in a place like, well, in Yotsukaido. They would have preferred – no, insisted on – St. Luke’s in Tokyo; or, if they had to, I suppose they might have allowed themselves to be ill in some place like the Chiba University Medical School Hospital. But never in Nakajima Clinic. In Yotsukaido.

That’s where I did some time recently, being cured of viral pneumonia. Nakajima Clinic’s a lil’ ole one-doctor hospital, with three floors up for patients desiring to spend a night and not a fortune and one floor down for out-patients, labs, pharmacy, x-rays, and waiting & examining rooms. Kind of an Ito Yokaido’s7 Super Depato8 for any patient’s one-stop Hospital & Medical Shopping.

4site of the New Tokyo International Airport, near a town a scant ninety kilometers northeast of Tokyo proper.

5that little burg out on the Sobu Line near Narita . . .

6polite way of referring to a “Western foreigner.”

7a Japanese Stop ‘n’ Shop.

8Japanese for “Department Store” (the similarity’s perhaps obvious).

Naturally, I came to know about Nakajima Clinic because I lived in Yotsukaido for a year and then some, teaching English at Japan Christian Junior College (to be honest, I don’t think I ever met a gaikokujin anywhere in Japan who wasn’t teaching somebody somewhere some English). Back in the U.S. (as some gaijin9 just couldn’t seem not to say), I’m an English Professor (what else?!) now at a university in the San Diego area, but I was on leave for that year with my wife, who was on sabbatical from the same college and who also taught English at JCJC ( . . . what a surprise – just like all the other gaikokujin).

Upon arrival in the Land of the Rising Yen, I was enrolled in the Health Care Program at JCJC and lucky thing, for a few months later I tried to pass a kidney stone one evening. Another of the other JCJC professors couldn’t help but hear my death-defying moans and came to my hysterical rescue by calling Nakajimi Clinic’s one and only Isha10 Shibata11 who agreed to meet us at his clinic. He lived 45 minutes away. We though lived 90 seconds away, on a good day when there was little traffic in booming Yotsukaido and about a minute and a half when it was rush hour.

Still the doctor arrived first, largely because our progress from my house to the waiting car was hampered by my grit-locked fetal position. Finally, or so they said (I don’t remember . . . I was too busy counting between contractions), my wife and friend just rolled me out and into the backseat like a huge dangari12. Arriving at Nakajima Clinic I do remember hearing the doctor’s voice (and thinking, it sounds a lot like Marcus Welby with a Japanese accent), while he wisely coaxed me into a standing fetal position outside the car. Able then only to study the textures of the parking lot and later the tile floors inside the clinic, I could feel his compassionate hands in mine somewhere high above my head, as he led me inside and softly intoned,

9impolite abbreviated version of gaikokujin, only it’s difficult to fully and accurately translate; considered this way, we abbreviate “Japanese” as ‘Jap’; that’s the equivalent of what they’re doing, and the cultural figurative look down the nose is also a comparable translation.

10very honorific and respectful term referring to a medical doctor.

11the Good Doctor’s last name.

12the equivalent of a Japanese acorn, prized by all Japanese schoolchildren for its beauty, lustre, and ubiquity.

Oo-inn-day-roh13-sensei14, you will not die from this, – you will not die from this.” I was not comforted, for all along I’d been praying I would.

Within the next 40 minutes though, he had checked all my vital signs, taken x-rays and developed them himself, done an ultrasound to locate the stone, processed urine and blood samples, and injected me with the 1st and 2nd of a series of morphine shots. The man was a medical pentathlete. And all without once having asked to see my Health Insurance Card.

“But back at home,” a couple years ago or so when I’d had a similar episode with another kidney stone, after waiting 45 minutes just to get into the Emergency Room (‘what’ emergency?!), the Computer Typist Extraordinaire had only said for about the umpteenth time, “I keep entering your Blue Cross/Blue Shield Master Medical Identification Card Number over and over again and it still doesn’t show up on my screen. Are you sure your account’s up-to-date?” He was not only a spaceshot, he had his own orbit. Actually, I should apologize, for having referred to him as a space shot has no doubt been an insult to bottle rockets.

About an hour later, the resident intern (my doctor’s service said he just couldn’t be reached – come on, we all know cellular phones were really invented and designed to fit neatly into golf bags) hippocratically thumped my back and said, “My aunt had one of these thing once and said it was worse than childbirth.” Pardon me, I mean HYPocritically.

Still later on that day, a nurse, probably a Baptist, patted my hand and kept saying over and over again, “Honey, this too shall pass, this too shall pass.” My prayers weren’t answered then either.

But I digress.

13Shibata-sensei’s approximated pronunciation of my American-English name according to the ever-efficient Rules of Romaji.

14very honorific and respectful term referring to a teacher; plus, anyone who ever watched or even heard about the TV series “Kung Fu” knows what this means, while ‘grasshopper’ is easily assimilated into Romaji as gu - ra - su - ha - ba.

This piece’s really for those tourists who would visit Tokyo and probably think, “Hey – this is Japan!” I agree, it is – and yet it isn’t. I sojourned into Tokyo every couple weeks or so, and really it could have been any other megalopolis on earth – London, Paris, Rome. Even . . . Boston.

Honestly, all huge cities are basically the same: sidewalks, buses, trains, traffic, lots of people; restaurants, bars, stores, shops, still more people; apartments, condos, office complexes, where’d all these people come from?! Sometimes in Tokyo I’d forget I was there and think I was in some mega-uber-metro-urb where there just happened to be a lot of great Japanese restaurants and maybe a couple conventions in town from, say, Fujicolor and Honda or . . .

Again I digress.

 So that’s why, when months later I checked into the penthouse floor of the Nakajima Hoteru15, the staff and doctor knew of me. But not like they would after my interment there.

The real getting-to-know-me and them began shortly after I was admitted (told simply to follow the night nurse upstairs – what paperwork?!) and had my first IV administered. No problem. Until it emptied, and they started to pull off the surgical tape and extract the needle.

Okay, even by gaijin standards I am a hairy guy, and as most gaikokujin know (or would know) from seeing the Nihonji16 in the public baths, Japanese men are no doubt harangued a lot less in their lifetimes by their wives saying, “How many times do I have to remind you to clean your gobs of hair out of the drain – my gosh, Carl, who was your mother last year?!!” Live and learn.

With my newly bald skin all pink and tingly from the surgical tape removal, I suddenly

15Japanese for ‘Hotel,’ a closer than usual Romaji approximation for the American-English; usually though, Hoteru is nearly always used in conjunction with the phrase Hoteru Avec: its own particularly Japanese institution . . . freely translated as ‘Love Hotel.’

16Japanese for “Japanese.”

became enlightened, as if sitting in the shadow of a 5-story pedagogue17 in graduate school: I was about to average 2.75 IV’s a day for at least the next 2 weeks, maybe 3 or more on some days, and every one would require a new poke. I asked Marcus Shibata, very politely and respectfully, why couldn’t they just leave the needle in like . . . well, uh, “back home?” He added new shades of meaning to the term inscrutable as he contemplated my question in silence.

Over his shoulders, the small (only in stature though) corps of able-bodied nurses twittered excitedly among themselves. They said something like, “How can the Americans expect to be considered world-class consumers if even their needles and other injection-related drug paraphernalia is not carelessly discarded?” (I think it gained something in my translation.) Anyway, Shibata-sensei demurred.

Really, I’m not a wimp about needles; it’s just that one of my favorite tactile sensations is not having the hair on my forearms – or anywhere else for that matter – removed with surgical tape. Next to needles and IV-related plasticware, surgical tape must be high on the list of Japanese disposables.

To their credit though the nurses did wince as they pulled off those first few pieces of lifeless fuzzy-wuzzy stickinesses, and through their clenched little teeth I could just make out them muttering an old Japanese proverb (I translated it thus): “This is going to hurt me more than it’s going to hurt you.” They were wrong. It hurt me a lot worse.

I could tell right off that, at 8 to 10 pieces of tape per IV and 2.75 IV’s a day for 2 possibly 3 weeks, my forearms were destined to be bald before their time. So Shibata-sensei heard my new petition and permitted my forearms to be shaved from elbow pit to wrist, to the delight of his giggling battery of nurses.

When they finished, I lifted up my shirt and pointed to my chest saying, “Tsugiwa watashino-munega sorimasu!”18 They exited backwards, coyly laughing and bowing, only to

17any town worth its rice in Japan has at least one 5-story pagoda, which is a must-see attraction for all able-bodied temple worshipping tourists; or a postcard of it can always be had at nochukakuni eki -- “a nearby train station.”

18”Shave my chest next!”

return armed high above their heads with 2 razors apiece announcing, “Yoi ga dekitayo! Yoi ga dekitayo!!”19 And they thought I was a card.

Actually I was quite a novelty. I was a gaikokujin, a hairy one, and a big hairy one at that, stacking up, depending on the day’s posture, 193 centimeters20 or more. A veritable TV Tower21 in the Nihon22 ozone.

Invariably, when I was being prepped for yet another IV the nurse would compare the size of her hand and forearm with mine. And by the end of my stay my forearms looked very strange. My right one could have made an old maid’s pin cushion blush while my left ended up with enough needle tracks to have elicited an “Iina-!”23 from even Jimi Hendrix. (My wife saw it eventually taking on the appearance of an abandoned Lilliputian oilfield, but I’m the writer in the family, and I call the figures of speech as I see ‘em.)

My right forearm had to be declared off-limits for a few days because on Coming of Age Day24 one of the JV’s was called upon to inject my gamma gobulin IV – the 1st-team was all off for the National Holiday, of course. Anyway, her needleful of good intentions plunged into and through my vein, dumping undetected raw gamma gobulin into my tissue. The marble-sized then golfball-sized mass coming to a life of its own under my skin got my attention right away and the jayvee nurse’s next. Before she could divert the flow and re-thrust the needle it looked like the Blob was staging a comeback in my forearm. She gommenasaied25 herself about a

19”We are ready! We are ready!!” (with EMPHASIS!!!)

20about 6’3” or more, depending, again, on the day’s posture.

21the most prominent landmark, for years and years, no kidding on the Tokyo skyline; believe it or don’t.

22Japanese for “Japan” (also, rhymes much better than ‘Japan Ozone”).

23an exclamatory outburst registering about 9.9 on the Envy Scale.

24ritual observation when 19-year-old Japanese girls get all dolled-up in their kimono, etc., . . .

25an extremely polite apology, accompanied by much deep bowing.

hundred times, and I iie dotashimashited26 about a hundred times myself, trying to put her lost face back in place. I assured her it was no big deal. I lied. If she could have done that to my bicep instead I might not have hit the Big Red Itai27 button quite so hard and fast. As it was for a couple days, I bore a striking resemblance to Robin Williams in a 1-armed Popeye suit, and my 8-year-old son innocently mused how neat it would be if it could stay that way forever.

I was also novel because it was readily apparent to the nurses that I possessed more than the usual command of Porky Pig School of Restaurant Japanese (stutter and point, then nod like crazy, that is). To be honest though, when I arrived at Nakajima Clinic I was only moderately conversant in Japanese, but, as my wife wryly observed about a week into my stay, I had become dangerously conversational, even down-right loquacious at times, chit-chatting as it were with the nursing staff via the intercom in my celling speaker.

I admit, they were a captive audience, and I for them and their English. When they learned I was an eigo kyogi28, they loved putting their NHK29 lazio30 lessons to work, and I learned anew how incredibly honored and fun-loving the Japanese can be when you use their language. Even poorly.

But the real motivation for wanting to speak their language (and incentive is the key to learning any language) was this: I wanted to know what Welby-sensei and his bevy were saying about me; more importantly, I wanted to know what they were saying to me; but most importantly, I wanted them to know what I was saying about me. “Itai!” may be fine when

26an extremely polite but nonchalant way of saying, “Hey, no big deal!” accompanied by much deep shrugging.

27”Pain,” or “It Hurts!”

28English Professor.

29Japanese equivalent of PBS.

30”radio” – Romaji-replicated adaptation.

you’re out in the schoolyard being bopped on the head by your tomodachi31, but when staring into the Mariannes Trench of Pain you want to be able to express location, degree, intensity, probable cause, and empathetic need for an immediate soft shoulder, etc. And hayaku!32

Want to learn a foreign language fast? Forget the tapes, CD’s, DVD’s, the fancy language labs, the expensive intensive institutes, the Rosetta Stone come-ons; ignore the slick ads on the IRT, the testimonials in the New York Times, and the tastefully sublime educational opportunities in the New Yorker – instead, check into a hospital where that foreign language is spoken and only that language is spoken.

At first when I checked into Nakajima Sinai, I was very surprised and pleased to be given my own private room, with a western style toilet even and my own sink, albeit cold running water only. Afterall, they’d let me in without a suitcase full of greenbacks or without a gold-plated Health Insurance Card enameled in platinum set with diamonds clustered in the shape of “Member Since Methuselah” laminated in silicone.

However, my room did add new dimensions to the concept of confinement. No matter how many times I stepped it off, the width and lengths always ended up 6 steps by 3 steps. No matter where I started from, it always ended up 6 steps by 3 steps. No matter where I started from, it was always the same, if I was true to myself and odometry. I tried not to be once, and I came up with 289 steps by 174, but it didn’t make me feel any better. Only dizzy.

I tried not to think about it, but my room seemed shaped a lot like a big coffin. Same configuration, same ratio of width to length. Now I know why children aren’t buried in adult-sized coffins. They’d spend eternity stepping it off : 6 steps by 3 steps, 6 steps by 3 steps, . . . ad infinitum, ad aeternium, et ad nauseum!33 And just like kids, they’d never go to sleep.

31”friend”; a lot of good-natured ‘nuggying’ often goes on during the course of a normal Japanese school day and a lot of false-hearted itaing is shrieked out in response.

32”right away, hurry up, immediately!” all sushi-rolled into one.

33”Latin for “no more talking, no more drinks of water, and don’t make me come up there and spank you!”

My bed too was a pleasant surprise, fitting me almost as if it had come from the House of Procrustes34. It was a couple inches short, but what bed “Made in America [sic35],” except for my own custom-made Emperor-size back home in San Diego, conformed as well to my height.

True, it was a curious blend of Oriental and Occidental sleepware – western style hardware with futon36 software, including a bean-filled pillow. But long day in and long day out in that bed produced no backache. While my last hospital ‘back home’ in San Diego (the kind with the Space Shuttle hand control able to turn the bed into more shapes than the katakana37) had my aching back begging me to sleep standing up in the corner on my head for a fortnight.

I never did figure out how to do a hospital tuck on the corner of my sleeping mat nor could get a hyakuen38 coin to bounce back into my palm off the futon cover. Of course I made my own bed, kept the room neat and tidy (afterall I did it when I was kid, plus I wasn’t bedfast), gave myself my own pills (shokuji no ato de39 – what dolt can’t remember to do that, besides is there any civilization anywhere in the world where pills aren’t taken after meals?!), even took my own ancillary temperature (when’s the last time a bedside major-domo back home let any patients put their hands anywhere near their mouths while a thermometer slanted out of them? I always got my hand slapped out of the way; they always had to be the one to put it in, they always had to be the one to take it out; like they didn’t think I could find my mouth with both hands or something), recorded it myself, and was even believed when I learned to simply say

34mythic Greek mattress salesperson reputed to have coined and copyrighted the phrase: “One Size Fits All©”

35onset of nausea when the realization sets in that so few items sold in the U.S. of A. bear this label.

36traditional Japanese bed, consisting of a sleeping mat and a pseudo-down coverlet.

37the 46-character-or-so Japanese alphabet solely utilized for adapting and adopting foreign words into their language.

38100 yen.

39quite simply, “after meals, you dolt.”

san-kyu hroku-do-ichi-bu deshita40. But Shibata-sensei’s nursing corps was always there when I needed them, and they were always there when they needed to be, twittering with concern and exuding T.L.C.

And that was it for path-wearers on my indoor-outdoor carpet. Except for Welby-sensei’s Maxwell House-like rounds morning and afternoon. Eight days a week.

“But back at home,” what’s a day in the life of a patient without a pubescent candy-striper vying for IQ and EQ honors with the dead and dying flowers on her pushcart double-parked at the bed’s side. Without a gray-tented gumdrop from the Ladies’ Auxiliary League dying to let someone let her tell them about her children. Without technicians, nurses’ aides, nutritionists, cleaning staff, maintenance crews, TV rental people, not to mention the obnoxious family, friends, and long-lost visitors of the bedmate(s!), and who knows who else bipping in and out/in and out night ‘n’ day all the time 24/7. Plus, the constant noise in the ever-open doorway from the flow of carts jangling up and down the hall and the incessant blare of the loudspeaker calling every nurse Tom, Aide Dick, and Dr. Harriet for some mysterious multi-colored code or another. ‘But will my doctor be in to see me today?’ “No one on the floor or in the ward has heard from him yet today.” ‘Well, did you think of trying the golf course?’ “Sir. We don’t appreciate your brand of humor in here. This is a Well-Ness Centre, sir.” “Oh. So what brand do you,” etc., etc., etc., ad nauseum per humoribus ægrotavit41 as usual . . .

So, the Nakajima Clinic made it easy for me to do the 2 things that Shibata-sensei said I had to do my part to get well: 1) get all the rest that I could; 2) eat all the food that I could. Now not too many people have ever been able to call me a slacker in either of those areas, especially my mother, and as much as I revel in both of those activities I’d much rather be able to choose a slightly different bed and a more varied meal plan.

40”It was 36.1.” Cryptographic Japanese for ‘When I last took my temperature just a couple minutes or so ago it was, uh, let me see, it was – uhm, – thirty-six and one-tenth degrees centigrade. Okey-dokey?’

41Latin for “supplicating the commode god for release from sinful indulgences of the recent past” (another modest gain in translation but nonetheless rather redundant when quotated in a hospital setting).

As I’ve intimated, peace and quiet, solitude and soul-searching (thus, this tome) were in abundance, and so was the food. But not exactly what I expected.

First I have to say that I am not one of those American eaters who has to have his beef ruby red at every meal and plenty of it, with scoops of mounded ice cream heaped on, slathered all over with hot fudge and ranch dressing, covered in butter and deep fried in a vat of animal fat til it’s golden crunchy brown with all kinds of inorganic herbs and exotic spices and secret spices & seasonings mixed in and coated with salt, yeah, white with salt, a literal snow-field dublanche42. I’m more inclined to be somewhat health-oriented in my dietary selection. So I perceived my stay as an opportunity to explore the range of indigenous foods offered by my locale. Wrong. It was really an adventure in sameness.

That sameness came to me as the same good-sized bowl of gohan43 at every meal and the same slightly smaller bowl of miso44 variously and thinly disguised, also at every meal. I used to play a variation on the old shell game before I itadakimasued45. I’d pass the covered bowls back and forth and back and forth on my tray until even I was thoroughly confused. But whenever I finally peeked under the lids, gohan was always in the larger one and miso in the slightly smaller one.

However, the real adventure came in the attendant covered dishes. Even before my bout with pneumonia I had been a hale & hearty eater of Nihon ryori46 from raw squids’ entrails in

42“lily-white,” as if soft, southern-style, genteel, re-located in Elysian Fields.

43rice, very white and very sticky, perfect for o-hashi-wa – chopsticks.

44clear broth soup with various unidentifiable semi-floating floaties.

45ritual expression uttered by polite, grateful Japanese before meals, meaning: “I am fortunate and blesséd to partake of this food”; sort of a Japanese ‘God is Great/God is Good’ meal-time prelim, but before we wore out the significance and/or before it was declared publicly off-limits by the political correctness Gestapo.

46Japanese cooking.

own juices all the way to nato47 and back. (One morning as I contemplated and meditated upon the 101 Possible Uses for Nato, I had the following epiphany: It’s really coagulated gossamer – with an overpowering rotten-as-hell toejam aftertaste!) So, I was not expecting too many surprises from someone in the kitchen with Daina48.

Still, that someone did surprise me, occasionally. Some of the best fish I ate in a year-and-a-half’s living in Japan came out of that hospital kitchen. On more than one occasion I toyed with razing the leftovers on my few fellow internees on the floor below me for just one more o-hashi-wa48-full of salmon or broiled ubiquitous whitefish. But I didn’t.

I sometimes felt though that I was being toyed with by that someone downstairs. One morning the nurse left me with a tray that had a dish of catfood on it. Now I’m not one given to exaggerate – that’s an established & proven fact – so I am golden on this one: it was catfood.

E.g.,49 when a can of catfood’s opened and then globbed down plunk in the cat’s bowl, it lands there whunk, shaped like it’s still in the can, only it’s not still in the can anymore, and it’s upside down, so that the sell-by-date is still indented in the coagulated ground-up fish guts & goo – only it’s just not in the can anymore. And then this little puddle of viscous liquid congeals off over kind of to one side of the bowl. That’s it. It was catfood. Now I’m not a finicky eater – another established & proven fact – so I ate it. I ate it all. Even the little pile of shaved daikon50 on top.

But it was catfood. I’m just saying.

By the way, as one no doubt has already guessed, I could just as well have checked my

47fermented soybean crud – I mean ‘curd’ – that makes limburger by any other name smell so sweet.

48how the Japanese would write “Dinah” in Romaji.

49abbreviated Latin for exempli gratia, translated to English: “minimalized hyperbole.”

50a pale, subtly flavorless Japanese radish, presented usually shaved paper-thin.

sweet tooth into one of the pigeon holes in the tsuwwipu51 box next to my street shoes downstairs in the lobby near the ginkan52 for all the more workout it got.

But not to worry.

Nonetheless, that someone in the kitchen had probably heard the stories about Mikey and figured that since I probably looked a lot like him (don’t all gaikokujin) that I too probably would eat anything. They were right. (Except for the pork. Not even in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Crave do I eat it or any of its ghastly by-products – including its oink.) So I’m sure a lot of odds ‘n’ ends and leftovers came to their long overdue and untimely demise in my figurative tubes before being passed onto the literal porcelain ones.

51Romaji for “slipper.”

52formal, tiled entryway just inside the front door of a Japanese house where street shoes are exchanged for house-only slippers; polite Japanese on the q.v.* know to leave their street shoes side-by-side, heels up against the step-up onto the carpet, hardwood floor, or the tatami∞ with toes pointed at-the-ready toward the door – not to be confused with otearewa∆ tsuwipa which are exchanged outside of the otearewa to be worn only in that semi-private space.

*Latin abbreviation for que vie, loosely translated as “full-fledged members of the Cool Kids Club.”

∞finely woven straw mat of straw or, even better yet, rice stalks which shoes of any kind never ever touch. Unless you’re Nancy Regan in your 4-inch stilettoes؏.

. ∆Japanese for toilet room – not to be further confused with the o-furu-waΩ.

Ωthe bath-only room where individuals slip in to bathe only.

؏Italian for “shoes which always stay on your metatarsalsӂ.”

ӂLatin for “Latin about digits.”

To that someone’s credit though, the latest edition of Tofu53-Helper must have been kept pretty close at hand somewhere down in the kitchen. I was constantly amazed at how something unrecognizable at one meal could be made recognizably unrecognizable at the next with just a little help from tofu.

In general, dining at the Nakajima Bistro54 taught me that when I say I’m wild about Nihon Riyori I probably mean I’m wild about Japanese restaurant food while I am only mildly keen about Japanese institutional food. But very specifically, I was enlightened to the true meaning of itadakimasu: I am indeed honored and privileged to partake of any food and drink when so many around the world have so little, or none; and I am grateful for whatever I am permitted to eat out of someone else’s abundance, because of someone’s tireless hard work, or because of someone’s sacrifice.

And when checkout time finally came at the Nakajima Futon to Asa-gohan55, I realized something else. For many people Tokyo is Japan, but for me Japan will always be Nakajima Clinic – the place where I spent the last 2½ weeks of my year and a half in Japan. A funny and unexpected place to close out my Tour of Duty – but a place that certainly gave me the time and perspective to crystallize what and why it is that the Japanese have risen to such eminence in the world, in a scant 65 years. Nakajima Clinic was not a building, or rooms, or even food being carted around. It was people – caring and affecting people’s lives. Certainly mine.

I guess that, to me anyway, is what the Japanese seem to do best: see what they have, put it to good use, and bring about the best effect possible.

53another much more palatable version of soybean, often also found in more shapes, sizes, and forms than the contents of any box of Alphabits.

54French for “any restaurant that’s not MakudonarudoѲ.

ѲRomaji for “McDonald’s.”

55Japanese for “Bed and Breakfast,” quite naturally.

And should anyone think I might have exaggerated any aspect of my stay at the Nakajima Clinic, I’ve got it all documented. Not just on these pages. On my last day I captured the Clinic on video and with 2 SLR’s.

So, should anyone yet be in doubt, whenever in Boston and cold stoney-faced New Englanders file past with their eyes – well, sort of guarded, averted to the side . . . the one who catches the eye, to smile, maybe even say hello – that would be me, of course; except, if that were me, I’d just be visiting there too, since I don’t live there anymore: so I’d be a tourist too then. (Actually, I’m a Floridian by birth.) Yeah, the big, hairy gaikokujin.

Well, the invitation still stands to come by the house, where I’ll be only too eager to regale, anyone willing to be my captive audience, with dozens of photographs and hours of video.

But if I’m not run into on the street, that’s okay. I’m listed in the Book.

As Holden Caufield would say, ‘you could like it up.’

Until then, in the next installment read about:

50 Ways to Say Sayonara from the New Tokyo International Airport


Don’t Cry for Me at Narit

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