Seeing a Doctor: Respiratory Distress

Are you sick? Injured? Dying? Perhaps I can help.

When I arrived to Japan, I had a horrible wheeze and a productive cough. In layman’s terms, I coughed and stuff came out of my lungs. I couldn’t sleep and it made it almost impossible for me to go on runs. Not a good situation to be in. So naturally I saught help with a respiratory doctor in my town.

I’d never been to a Japanese doctor before, and I had my first experience going to a hospital on my own when I was a senior in college and developed a pretty nasty lung infection about a month before I was set to depart for Japan. Before you ridicule, I was and still am a very healthy adult who takes very good care of my body, thank you very much. There was never a need.

THE FIRST THING YOU NEED TO KNOW: when you are sick, you go to a hospital. Unless there is a special clinic, you will hear your colleagues talking about “my child is in the hospital” or “I have to go to the hospital.” Do not be alarmed! It’s the equivalent of “welp, gotta go to the doctor to get this scrape looked at.” Due to the excellent healthcare here, hospital visits are common and thus usually not a time for worrying. I didn’t know that so I was adamant about going to a clinic, but I don’t think it would have made any sort of difference to be honest.

Here is a vocabulary list/timeline of my average experience at the clinic:

  • 内科(ないか): Internal Medicine. This is where I went for my respiratory issues.
  • 受付(うけつけ)Reception Desk. Go to this when you first get here. You put your name on a list and you will be called on a first-come, first-served basis. Avoid peak hours like lunch, and don’t go too close to closing time.
  • 初診です(しょしん)This is my first visit! This is very important, as they will give you a questionnaire to fill out. Bring a dictionary if you are not up to date with medical kanji. It will ask about your symptoms and medications and smoking/drinking habits.
  • 保険証(ほけんじょう)Insurance Card: You will have one from JET. Bring this and give it to the receptionist with your completed survey. Your copay will be cheap, around maybe 1000 yen if even. I got a chest X ray for the equivalent of $11. You don’t pay till you are done so sit tight.
    • 診察券(しんさつけん):Patient ID Card. If you go to a hospital, not a clinic, you may recieve this. It basically acts as a patient ID card for you to use each time you visit.
  • 診察室(しんさつしつ):Medical Exam Room. You will go here to be examined by the doctor. If you were like me, you will get blood drawn by the nurse first. She will also take your height and weight.

From here, vocabulary will vary. Please understand that you will need a functioning conversational level of Japanese from here on out. The doctor will ask you about your symptoms so try to know how to explain them. Worst case: take a JTE or a Japanese speaking friend with you to translate. When in doubt, pointing to an area and saying 「ここが痛い(いたい)」or “This hurts” will help.

So when that was all done and finished:

  • 待合室(まちあいしつ):Waiting Room. Go back out here and wait. If the doctor prescribed you medicine,  you need a prescription sheet from him or the receptionist.
  • 処方箋(しょほうせん):Prescription. After you get the documents for this, THEN you pay. After you pay, you are free to go to the pharmacy.
  • 薬(くすり):Medicine, in its most general term.
  • 薬局(やっきょく):Pharmacy.They are usually quite near to the clinic. Mine was next door. Walk in, give them your prescription, and wait while they fill it. The will then explain what each medicine does.They may even give you a prescription book, which counts as a record for all prescriptions filled at that pharmacy.

And that’s about it. Unless you experience asthma-like symptoms like I apparently did, your situation will probably be a little different. I ended up getting a short term inhaler and all is well now. Anywho, I hope this can help you navigate through your first experience at a Japanese doctor!

Christine Zawlocki is a 2nd year ALT in Kanoya, Kagoshima

Getting That Coveted Japanese Driving Licence

While you can find the nitty-gritty details on the Kagoshima JET page , here is just a little bit of a personal insight into the process.
 
Japan is all about ticking boxes and following protocols. The driver’s license is no different!

Sure, there are the obvious rules you need to obey and safety protocol you need to adhere to show yourself a safe driver. But there are other hoops you need to be jumping through:
 
The first, saving: Apart from the test fees themselves, lessons work out expensive as well as getting to the venue (which is in Aira).  Nothing less than \30 000.
 
The second, learning the course: The conversion test does not involve real-road driving. There is a course that you drive but you have to learn all the observations, when to put on your flickers, distance from the curb you have to drive, etc. Taking lessons close to where you live is fine but get at least  1 practice in with an instructor at the test venue. Your test adjudicator will ask and it is one of those hoops you have to jump though. If you skip out on this step, they are prone to see that as skimping on your preparation and can decide to fail you just on that.
Then you have to memorise the course that you can do it in your sleep for the rest of you life. A few friends and I found that the best way to get the course in our heads was with a group lesson – You split the costs of the lesson and while the one person drives, the others can study the map and/ or video the course for later study.

Then, on the day of the test, I would recommend walking the course through – pretend that you are in the car, miming the indicators and observations.  The written tests are done in the morning, so the course will be clear until lunch time.
 
And finally, attitude:  Be super respectful at all times.  It is as much a part of the test as the driving. Dress fairly smart, lots of bows, よろしくお願いします and ありがとう.
 
Final piece of advice would then be when it comes to the actual test, do your best to relax. A stressed mind makes silly mistakes. I myself turned right from the far left lane. Obviously, I failed that first one… And if you fail, while it does suck, you have to pick yourself up as quickly as possible, learn from your mistakes – sometimes, you genuinely don’t know what you did wrong and I am afraid that this is one of those mysteries that we generally put under “the man being out to get us” – and get another date in.

がんばって!

Nicole Ehlers is a third year ALT in Minamikyushu.

Renting a Car Over Buying: An ALT’s Experience

Besides buying a car outright, renting one is also an option. I ended up renting my car after the one from my predecessor was no longer running, but the process may differ for other people. One of my JTEs remembered the name of a company in Kokubu (World Motors Kokubu) and called them for me. After getting a ride to their showroom and looking at a car they had, the company owner offered to let me do a long-term rental instead of buying. I paid about 10,000Y per month for the first year I rented, but my car insurance was paid separately.

What I liked about renting was that any maintenance (shakken particularly) on the car is covered by my rental contract, and that I could pay year by year instead of all at once. The downsides to renting were that I had to switch cars a few times, and because they’re rented cheaply the car models are  much older than you might buy from a dealer. If you’re sure of only staying in Japan for one year or think renting might be for you, ask your supervisor about options from companies in your area

 

lauraLaura Boville is a 2nd year ALT in Kanoya, Kagoshima.

Things to Consider When Recontracting: An Opinion Piece

Post by Aneika Angus, an ALT in Isa.

Reappointment Woes

Hey loves, don’t you just love this time of year, the birds a gearing up to head south for the winter, leaves are changing and temperatures have “shankle dipped” over night to new lows. Yup it’s the season, reappointment season that is. I’ve been talking to a few of you about this over the past few weeks and it seems for some the decision is almost equivalent to being asked to use a basket to carry water. It seems so daunting and you know in your heart,

“This ish aint gonna work.”

Lets first look at your progress thus far; I want you to ask yourself the following questions;

  • What were the expectations you had of being a JET participant prior to coming to Japan?
  • How do those expectations compare to your actual life in Japan?
  • Are you in a position where you are constantly learning something new, or are being challenged to learn and or grow as a person?
  • Will any of what you’ve learnt be usable or adaptable to your life outside of Japan?

We all had a preconceived notion of what life would be like in Japan, some of us even went as far as to set goals for yourself, these are all perfectly natural human reactions to making major changes. But we must evaluate ourselves and our achievements when it comes time to admit that many of the goals we had set have not been achieved.

Now the reality is that many of you may be worried about re-contracting due to various factors:

  • An additional year in Japan could mean a significant setback to jump starting your career, should you choose to forgo teaching when you leave Japan.
  • You’re all “Japan Out”, meaning you’ve been everywhere, seen everything and now are no longer impressed by what the country has to offer.
  • While the money is good, bills back home are being paid etc. You are no longer happy.

The above are just a few of the extensive list I have. But the fact still remains, reappointment is your decision to make, do not pressure yourself into staying in a situation that confines you and makes you unhappy. Remember my loves; you deserve all the happiness that life has to offer. I will not sit here and tell you that life will be better when you return to your country. Chances are you will have to sit on your derrière for 3-6months before you find a job but we’ll get into that aspect in my next blog to you, for now, I want you all to think carefully about this decision.

Here are some Realistic Reasons to Re-contract:

  • You are content with your placement and job requirements
  • You feel that you are making a contribution that has a positive effect on others.
  • You can identify personal and professional growth in yourself.

When considering your options for reappointment, be wary of deceptive rationalizations such as:

  • I’ll save money next year.
  • I’ll learn Japanese if I stay

Unless there is a radical change in your life, chances are your life in Japan will not change dramatically if you were to choose to re-constract, this is empirically proven for third and fourth year JETs.

Realistic Reasons NOT to RE-CONTRACT:

  • Procrastination – putting off a hard decision, such as going back to school, or going home to face unresolved issues with family etc.
  • Money – staying on JET for the sole purpose of collecting a cheque.
  • Obligations – Persons within your BOE or CO have become familiar with you and they may pressure you into staying.
  • Indifference – its neither here nor there to you at this point, plus you’re a foreigner and you love the attention you get.

Happy thinking loves and remember, sometimes we have to let go of the life we have planned to embrace the one that’s waiting for us.

5 Tips for Grocery Shopping in Kagoshima

 

Ever felt (or think you may soon feel) completely bewildered by the Japanese supermarket? Start looking for soy sauce and realize you’re knee deep in the nori section with no memory of getting there? Well wander no more! Here are 5 tips for helping you navigate your grocery like the experienced obaachan we know you can be.

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1. Remember Sa, Shi, Su, Se, So
The most common ingredients found in Japanese cooking can be summed up by the 5 S syllables: Sa, Shi, Su, Se, So. With these ingredients on hand, you can conquer a wide range of Japanese dishes.

Sa: Sato, or sugar
Shi: Shio, or salt
Su: vinegar, particularly mirin (rice wine vinegar)
Se: Seiyu, or soy sauce
So: Miso

In most dishes, you add these ingredients in this order, because their taste is affected by heat and cooking time. Always start here!

2. Understand The Store Layout
Take a half hour with a friend in your area to wander around your local store, noting where go-to items are kept. Fresh fruits, veggies, meat, and dairy are laid out along the perimeter, with dry goods like rice in the inner isles. Make note of the fresh bento areas, clearance racks and where to stock up on essentials like soy sauce.

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3. Start Small: Make A List
This may seem self-explanatory, but it can be all too easy to pop into Nishimuta and walk out with 9 things whose names you can’t pronounce. The easiest way to avoid confusion in the store is to have a list of what you need. To start, look up some easy Japanese recipes like donburi, soba, or fried rice and work from there. Google Searches like “cake in a rice cooker” have literally changed my life in the inaka, and they can change yours too.

4. Ask for help
So you find the tomatoes, here’s the lettuce, but where are the damn potatoes again?

Hail down a nice and friendly Japanese worker with a simple
“______ wa doko desu ka?” (Where is…?)
Or a “______ wa arimasu ka?” (Do you have…?)

Pull up a picture on your phone for quick reference in times of need.

5. Use A Kanji App
Once you find the soy sauce, how will you know which is which?
To avoid much confusion, download a Japanese dictionary like JEDict with a kanji drawing option, so you can quickly reference unknown characters. Google Translate also has a fairly accurate picture to text option- just snap a photo and bam!

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Bonus Tip- Cheap Shopping: Keep an eye out for seasonally cheap items like mikans and biwa and watermelon. Most grocery stores discount their bentos and meat after 8pm on weekdays, and your area probably have additional sale days. Ask your coworkers where/when they shop for extra points.

For additional tips, including ingredient lists and allergy warnings, check out this Gaijinpot Beginners Guide to Japanese Supermarkets.

Happy Meal Hunting!