Monday, February 19, 2018

Punk and the price of medicine

When Johnny Rotten (he of the Sex Pistols infamamous infamy) walked off stage at the curtain of  The Pistols last gig of a somewhat self-immolatory American Tour in January 1978, he crouches down, turns to the crowd and with undisguised loathing uttered the words "ever get the feeling you've been cheated?" And that was that. Within a year Sid Vicious was dead from a heroine overdose whilst trying to explain he had no idea how his girlfriend was shot dead. Next to him in the hotel room. But he was innocent. 

However I digress.
Occasionally, like everyone in life, I will need to
visit the doc. I used to avail upon the services of of an excellent international physician based quite close-by however, subsequent to his retirement, I took the plunge and went local with a new clinic recently established not too far from where I live. And also by now my Japanese was at a standard where it was no-longer overly intimidating to put my hands in the life of a foreign language. And so today I made the journey with what had the unpleasant feelings of the on-set of flu season inside my head and, feeling miserable and a little pathetic, I walked up the road the two minutes it took to get there.

Having waited less than thirty minutes for the doctor to invite me in (and remember this wasn't a scheduled visit, I had no appointment, I had just walked in) soon he was taking blood pressure, providing a general consultation and handing me over to a nurse to check for the H3N2 virus (this being executed by what seemed to be a three foot syringe straight up my nose that even the nurse said must have hurt). The swab was tested then and there in the lab and I was declared to be plague free a few minutes later. The doctor then prescribed two sets of medicine that he said would see off the worst over the next few days (oh, and provided a repeat prescription for another lurgy we've been working on recently). The drugs were despatched by the receptionist in about ten minutes and I was on my way having been charged a total of a little shy of $25. And if your country's healthcare isn't the moral equivalent of Japan's, then get out your old vinyl and ask yourself the question "ever get the feeling you've been cheated...?" 

Friday, February 16, 2018

The wonderful works of Jin Watanabe

Japan, it has to be said is somewhat awash with museums of a wide and wonderful kind. Some of them even have exhibits (there was a small problem with bubble era funding, great architecture, and then the money ran out before the purpose could be fulfilled and artifacts installed). But there is one that is a throw back in time and you really need to know where to look. And it isn't a throw back in the sense of the Smithsonian or the Natural History Museum, both of which are triumphs of their era that somehow remain contemporary today; no, this one leaves you sipping tea, sitting in a world that would not be unfamiliar to realms of Hercule Poirot.

Set behind a high stone wall in amongst tall, shady trees is the creation of master architect Jin Watanabe who, in 1938, in the early years of the Showa period, designed the self enclosed Bauhausian structure for businessman Toshio Hara, grandfather to the current owner. In 1979 it was finally liberated from use as various embassies and converted to an art museum, though arguably the finest piece in its collection is the building itself. If you ever happen to be in the vicinity of Kita-Shinagawa, downtown Tokyo, it is worth a waste of time.

But Jin Watanabe is not so famous for this delight but more for the Wako Building in central Ginza; the one with the clock tower. Soon a favorite meeting point, the clock tower is actually the second incarnation of the Seiko time piece. The building was originally created in the late 19th century in the central glitzy area of then up and coming Ginza. Which then burnt down a couple of times. And so in 1932, the all new, Jin Watanabe designed, Wako Building was created with a genuine stone facade to defend from the flames. Which turned out to be useful as it was the only building in the area to survive WWII. And it had a spanking new clock on the top. And it's still a favorite meeting point today. And Seiko means precision in Japanese; just if you were wondering.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Tokyo Snows

It is upon a rare occasion that snows fall on Tokyo. That isn't to say they never do, but maybe every half decade or so there will be enough to disrupt the traffic of the metropolis. In more northerly climes and along the Japan Sea coast, local ordinances require cars to don snow tires during the winter months come icy blasts or no, but not Tokyo. When the snow sprinkles, chaos reigns. The highways close, the normally clock perfect train system is delayed and drivers put their foot down as if it's a summer's day. And wonder why they spin. And then the tunnels close too and people leave cars, keys in the ignition so the rescue services can move them later, taking to shanks' pony home.

The airports will see hundreds of cancelled flights and yet optimistic travelers still battle the elements to arrive on time for a blanket and a piece of floor for the night. Daylight sees planes, great stranded steel birds, queueing for a gate to load tired but stoic passengers and finally take them to the skies. There is little dissent or disruption, and if there is, it is more than likely not of Japanese making. People just politely accept their lot, keep calm and carry-on as it were.

I once walked, in an early morning, past a school where the teachers were clearing the snow in front of the gates. This is seen as something of a civic duty, an act in which almost all of the population will engage. One of the teachers was a young woman in a business suit and high heels and, with her colleagues, she was shoveling as best she could. Being western my initial thought was to help, take the shovel and complete the task for her. But stopping to think from her perspective I realized she wasn't there to clear the snows, but to be seen to be making her own contribution. If I took the shovel she'd more than likely continue with her bare hands. In trying to help, I'd be making the situation worse. And so I lent her my gloves, asking if she would leave them on the wall when she had finished. And there they were the next day, folded neatly, exactly where I'd asked her to leave them. And so Tokyo may fall apart in the winter weather, but the people remain Japanese. Polite and thinking of others. Happy snow storm.