Musings of a Gaijin MD

Life in Japan as a Foreign Doctor

Mid-Autumn September 29, 2011

Filed under: Sightseeing — GaijinMD @ 10:59 PM

In honor of the Mid-Autumn holiday and the gorgeous weather last week, I visited a park within the city.  This particular park was set at the base of a mountain with a mini-forest.  While there, I discovered it also housed a shrine >100 years old.

Can we just say kawaii (cute)?!?!

Given the holiday, I got to see many families enjoy themselves.  Some of the children were also dressed in traditional Japanese clothing, i.e. kimonos; they were so cute!  Inside, some families also had their official family portraits taken with the shrine backdrop.


Portrait Taking

I was even lucky enough also to witness a Japanese wedding at the shrine with the bride and groom dressed in traditional clothing.  It was very striking to me how the bride’s clothing is white whereas in other Asian cultures, i.e. Chinese, the bridal clothing is typically in a very bright color such as red.

After getting lost for a bit in the park, I finally found my way out and proceeded to finish my day off with some retail therapy.  🙂  Great day!


One Is the Loneliest Number

Filed under: Hospital — GaijinMD @ 9:50 AM
one is the loneliest number

Image by horizontal.integration via Flickr

Well, I have finally achieved the feat; I managed to plan for a teaching session with absolutely no one showing up.  About once or twice a week in the late afternoon, there is a scheduled teaching session for the residents.  The topics of these sessions range anywhere from the most recent morning report topic to general, mundane topics (i.e. hypertension) to games, such as Jeopardy.

I have been told by my predecessors and my boss that, unfortunately, the attendance history of these sessions in the past 10 years has always been low.  In the last several months, the rotating medical students and a couple of residents came, but there was always at least 1 person.

This past week was when I had absolutely no one come.  Even though I have been prepared for this situation to happen, it is still a bit disheartening.  The residents may say that they are very busy at that time, but as medical residents, when are they ever not busy?  I am a firm believer that if you really want to do something, you will make the time and effort to do it; being “busy” is an excuse.

Anyways, chin up, me.  I will just continue telling myself that it is ok; on the upside, I can just use the same topic presentation the next time instead of coming up with something new.  😉


Costco September 27, 2011

Filed under: Daily Life,Shopping — GaijinMD @ 10:47 PM
Tags: , , , ,

Several weeks ago, some friends and I decided to make a trek out to Costco (and surprisingly yes, there are several branches in Japan).  Unfortunately, the 21 mile journey that would normally take half an hour, per GoogleMaps, took us 2 hours (each way) because of construction on the highway.

Speaking of highways, it also brings up the fact that in Japan, it seems like most of the highways are toll roads, and the toll was quite expensive.  The 10-15 miles that I was on the highway (each way) cost about $10 USD!

Anyways, after finally arriving, I happily stocked up on my Tide laundry detergent (oh, how I have missed thee); I just don’t think the Japanese brands that I’ve used are getting my clothes clean enough.  I’ve also been on the hunt for a Downy ball since arrival to Japan, but alas, no ball at Costco.

Faux Swiffer

Then, I was able to snag a faux Swiffer WetJet with a huge container of PineSol.  I’ve also not been able to find a similar product at typical Japanese stores.

I was also made very happy by my Nutella find, in addition to some caramel popcorn.

All in all, the Japanese Costco seemed to have the same type of items sold in the US.  They may not carry all of the same brands, but for each type of product (i.e. laundry detergent, cleaning solution, foods, etc), they usually had 1-2 US brands (and of course their Costco Kirkland brand) and several Japanese brands also.  They did have an optical and photo development departments.  I’m still not sure if they had an official pharmacy.

What I did find lacking was their Health and Beauty section.  It did not contain as many products or variety compared to the US (although one may argue that there are too many in the US to begin with).  They just had some shampoos and soaps and lotions.

Overall, it was a good trip, and I’m very happy to have gotten the above items.  Given the time to get there, however, it might be awhile until I make another trek.


Ice Cream + Liquor September 25, 2011

Filed under: Food — GaijinMD @ 11:26 PM
Tags: ,

In line with my recent dessert posting, I also experienced another form of dessert several weeks ago.  I’ve had ice cream before and liquor before but never together.  At this particular eclectic sweets restaurant, everyone’s order comes with a cup of soft vanilla ice cream.  Each order then includes 2 flavors of liquor and optional crepe, yogurt, and ground coffee beans.

Since I was in a party of 3, we could pick a total of 6 liquor flavors, some of which included mango, blueberry, and tea.  One of the servers proceeded to teach us how to eat it.  You take one spoonful of ice cream, rest your spoon on the top of your cup (special ridge for placement of the spoon on the cup), pour several drops of liquor on your spoon, and then eat.  You can put as much (or little) liquor on the ice cream as you want.  Since I had to drive later, I only tried a minimal amount of each type of liquor so that I could sample them before I gobbled up the crepe, yogurt, and coffee toppings.

After the ice cream, we each got a cookie shaped in different animals: koala, frog, and dog + bone (which was mine).  I can’t believe that someone actually created these miniature cookies in such great detail.

I can’t wait to go to this restaurant again when I don’t have to drive so I can sample the liquor more generously.


It’s All about the Chocolate

Filed under: Food,Sightseeing — GaijinMD @ 10:54 PM

Given that there’s been some gorgeous weather this week, I decided to visit one of the chocolate factories in Japan.  This particular factory is housed in a warehouse >100 years old with surrounding structures built in the European style.  Several buildings comprise this semi- “amusement park,” including the factory itself, clock tower, rose garden, and miniature houses for children to play.

A tour of the factory included a history of chocolate with a demonstration of how chocolate was made, the different boxes and packaging from the 1800’s in Europe, European china for hot chocolate, the cookie production line, and ended with chocolate fondue—all for me.  🙂  Gorgeous weather, beautiful scenery, and chocolate: how can life get any better?  Yummy…


Toilet Tales September 24, 2011

Filed under: Daily Life — GaijinMD @ 11:05 AM
Tags: , ,

Being technologically advanced, Japan has also extended these innovations to its toilets.  About 20 years ago, the company Toto decided to combine the toilet and bidet into an all-in-one feature.  Nowadays, most toilets are of this variety.  The “bidet” feature is actually a detachable apparatus that you can place on top of the toilet bowl to form the toilet seat and cover.

Panic green button on the left back wall. Real flushing button on the back plumbing area. Bidet panel next to toilet seat

On first encountering, you will notice a panel of buttons that are usually located next to the toilet seat.  The usual set of buttons include bidet, spray, stop, and flushing sound (to cover up any embarrassing sounds you may make); these buttons are listed in Japanese, pictograms, and sometimes English.  Also included are buttons to adjust the water pressure of the bidet.  Optional features of the high-tech toilet include seat warmers, water warmer, and deodorizer.  As I said before, these panels of buttons are usually located next to the toilet seat.  Sometimes, however, they are located on the wall of the bathroom (which requires some hunting if you are not familiar).

The button actually to flush the toilet is located many times in a different spot from the panel; the shape and color of the real flushing button also vary.  Sometimes, it is located in a similar place to the US’s toilets.  Other times, though, require a very thorough search of the bathroom.  It can be located near the panel of buttons on the side wall or on the back wall or hidden away near the plumbing.  Sometimes, you have to wave your hand in front of a sensor in the wall.

One of my first experiences in Japan occurred when I kept on pushing the “flushing sound” button instead of the “real” flushing one; it was quite frustrating with my thoughts running along the lines of, “No, I want the ‘real’ one, not this fake sound one.  Ugh….”

Then, yesterday even after having lived here for several months, I encountered yet another format.  Again, I could not find the real flushing button.  The only one I could guess to be it was this green button on the wall.  Yes, it did have a sign describing what it was, but again, it was only in Japanese.  Given its green color and how green usually equals “go,” I decided to push it—— only to have the overhead alarms go off.  😦  Apparently, I pressed the “panic/help” button.  Anyways, after realizing my error, I frantically searched for the real button so that I could hopefully exit the stall with no one realizing my American error.  I did finally find it “hidden” away in the plumbing area with a sign (again written only in Japanese) and green arrow.  Next, I tried to walk calmly out of the stall to wash my hands.  By that time, a security guard had burst into the bathroom to see if anyone was in danger (which there wasn’t).  All the while, I was trying to keep my cool and pretend it wasn’t me.

Phew!  Mass embarrassment averted… until next time.


In Search of the Otaku September 23, 2011

Filed under: Sightseeing — GaijinMD @ 10:34 AM
Tags: , , , , , ,

On the evening of my exploration day of Tokyo, my newfound Swedish friend whom I met on the Hato Bus Tour and I decided to hit the streets of Tokyo.  In particular, we had heard about people who walked the streets while being dressed up in various costumes on a daily basis.  Our mission, therefore, was thus formed: find these costumed people so that we could see what they looked like.


Lolita Fashion

Obstacle 1: Where exactly do these costumed people hang out?  After asking multiple people, we narrowed down our search to either Harajuku (where women dress up in Lolita costumes) versus Akihabara (where the guys dress up).  Since it was getting dark, we were told that we would have more luck at Akihabara, a.k.a. Electric Town.

Obstacle 2: When we arrived at Akihabara, we were disappointed not to have found anyone wearing costumes.  I, therefore, contacted a friend originally from the Tokyo area and was told that the “otaku” people should be in that area.  Since we obviously didn’t see anyone fitting that description, we started asking employees in the stores along the street in that area where the “otaku” people were supposedly located.  Most of the time, we just got very confused looks as answers.  Only later did I realize that otaku did not mean “costumed people” in Japanese; otaku is more likely defined as a “geek or nerd.”  No wonder people didn’t understand what we were talking about; we were asking where the “nerds” were located…  Lost in Translation

Obstacle 3: We finally happened to find an English-speaking Japanese in an electronic store who understood what we were asking about.  He thus referred us over to the cosplay cafes (and yes, my initial reaction to that word was probably the same as yours).  On reflection, we realized that the 2-3 girls dressed up in French maid costumes on the streets and handing out flyers worked for these cosplay cafes.  Finally, we’re making headway.


Another Cosplay Cafe

Surprise: After taking a look at a cosplay flyer, we followed the directions and headed up the elevator to the appropriate floor.  When the elevator doors opened, my friend and my faces must have shown the biggest “deer in headlights” look.  What in the world did we get ourselves into?  (And indeed, all the cafe patrons were staring at us when we walked in.)  What we walked into was a small cafe about 15 x 30 feet with walls painted a bright bubble-gum pink.  All the cafe’s employees were very young women/girls dressed up in French maid costumes of blue or pink color.  They greeted everyone, including us, with over-the-top enthusiasm in squeaky voices.

Given the above situation, we made the excuse that we just wanted to take a look at the menu while we surreptitiously glanced around the cafe trying to see if there were even any female customers (2) as we mainly saw males.  When we finally decided that we couldn’t pretend to look at the menu any longer, we made the next excuse that we’ll come back after shopping.  After another round of over-the-top goodbyes, we finally got back on the elevator to leave.

My overall thoughts: It was the weirdest experience of my life!  I don’t know how else to describe it.  It could mainly be because (after looking it up afterwards) of the thought there are grown men (and some women) who are such followers of manga and anime that they want to live their fantasy world in their real lives and have very young women dressed up as “maids” to cater to their every whim.  It could also be the pink walls.  Who knows?  I will likely not forget about this experience anytime soon.