Musings of a Gaijin MD

Life in Japan as a Foreign Doctor

Kamakura September 19, 2012

Tsurugaoka Hachimangu

I’m very sorry about the lack of updates recently, but I’m still alive and truckin’ along.  This past weekend, I went to Tokyo for a day trip to Kamakura, the former de facto capital of Japan.  At just an hour away from Tokyo, this little town boasts of numerous temples and shrines of which the most popular are the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine (the spiritual heart of the city), the Great Buddha (2nd largest in Japan), and the Hase Kannon Temple (the tallest wooden image in Japan of the goddess of mercy).

Despite the heat and humidity, an archery competition was also held that day at the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine.  Unfortunately, due to the amount of people, I could not get a good view, or any at all, of the event.

While the Great Buddha was “great” and big, I couldn’t help feeling slightly underwhelmed, especially in comparison to the Big Buddha in Hong Kong (although that Buddha may have appeared bigger in my memory, especially to a younger/smaller me).  Granted, the bronze Japanese Great Buddha was cast in 1252 (while the one in Hong Kong was erected in 1993) so taking the age of it into consideration, one should see it.  You could even walk inside the hollow Buddha, but given the weather, I did not want to brave the possible air stagnation in the oppressive heat.

All in all, while Kamakura is nice and convenient for a day trip from Tokyo, I still prefer Nikko.


In Search of the Otaku September 23, 2011

Filed under: Sightseeing — GaijinMD @ 10:34 AM
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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.


First Impressions: Tokyo September 22, 2011

Filed under: Sightseeing — GaijinMD @ 10:59 PM
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While I had vacationed in Osaka and Kyoto before, I had never visited Tokyo outside of the typical Tokyo Narita airport layover to other parts of Asia.  My first “official” visit to the city was for interviewing medical students for my hospital’s residency program.  Since the interview day was Sunday, it left Saturday open for me to explore.

Given the expansive nature of the city, I was recommended by my colleagues to join the Hato bus tour, which can be easily identified on the streets of Tokyo by their bright yellow color.  I was also very glad that the weather-gods decided to bless us with particularly good temperatures that day given that Tokyo is notorious for their hot, humid summers (or so they say… I’m from Texas after all) filled with typhoons (a.k.a. hurricanes).

The day began with a visit to the Meiji-jingu Shrine, which was dedicated to the previous emperor of Japan.  We happened upon  a festival that day where different traditional dance groups from around Japan came to perform for this ceremony.  The bright colors of the traditional Japanese costumes helped liven up the atmosphere.

Next, we toured the Imperial Palace Gardens surrounded by a moat.  While the garden was quite serene, this site was made much more memorable for me since I unfortunately became live American bait for the Tokyo mosquitoes: 12 gobbles in the span of half an hour.

Another part of the itinerary included a cruise around the Tokyo Bay.  While relaxing, I preferred other cruises I’ve visited elsewhere.

All in all, this bus tour was convenient as it gave a brief overview of the city.  On further inspection of a brochure of Tokyo, however, we just skimmed a minute fraction of what Tokyo has to offer in terms of sightseeing.

From what I can tell at this time, Tokyo is much different compared to other major cities of the world in terms of city layout.  While the city is one of the largest and urbane in the world with its renowned technological advancements, it has surprisingly many parks, shrines, gardens, and castles interwoven in the midst of its many high-rises.  I have not visited another city where such a significant contrast of the “old and new” exists harmoniously.

In addition, while Tokyo is typically depicted as a very large, crowded city with a mind-boggling subway system (my eyes started crossing just from looking at the map), what I have seen leads me to believe that while populous, the city is very “controlled” and very clean, especially given its size.  The crowds are not “chaotic;” everyone still behaves courteously.

This tour also allowed me to meet fellow travelers from around the globe, i.e. Sweden, Holland, Germany, Australia, and Vietnam.  Stay tuned for more for the evening portion of my day in Tokyo!


Recruitment Fair September 18, 2011

Filed under: Hospital — GaijinMD @ 1:02 PM
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Residency recruitment is conducted differently in Japan compared to the US.  In fact, in the US I do not even know if there is any official recruiting method besides word-of-mouth and the interview day where they give out brochures and take applicants on a tour of the hospital.

The number of medical schools in Japan is also quite astounding for a country with the approximate size of California.  Can you imagine >80 medical schools in California, with most of them in, say LA?  Now, granted the population of Japan is also quite high, about half the US, with many of them living in urban areas.  So, imagine half the US population being squished into California, and mainly in the big Californian cities, no less….  can be quite crowded.

Anyways, in Japan most residency programs congregate into one big convention center on a specific date at a specific city, i.e. Tokyo, Osaka, etc.  I attended the residency recruitment fair in Tokyo (which interestingly enough also hosted an anime convention in the same building) with several other members of the faculty and residents.

On entering the convention hall, rows and rows of booths were lined up with each booth about 7 x 7 x 7 feet representing different residency programs.  Some booths were extraordinarily large, which I believe, meant that particular program spent extra money for extra space.

Members of each booth were not allowed to step out of a marked line so that they couldn’t actively pursue and chase down medical students who happened to pass by.  When the students showed interest in a particular program’s booth, they stepped into the “designated space” so that they could speak with any member of the program.

I was there mainly as the program’s “advertisement” of the year-round American faculty and US-styled residency program.  Throughout the 8 hours of the fair, I spoke to about 3-4 interested students.  While some of the students initially expressed interest in the American faculty to the other members, when I was pointed out to them that they could immediately speak with me, some of the students got a little scared (hopefully because they were not prepared to speak English and not because I was scary looking).

Anyways, it was an interesting experience, and the hospital may attend another recruitment fair in another city in the future.