Once again, on my day off, I rode – hungry, still tired – to the tongue-twisterly named Nishinakajima-Minamigata Station for my annual company health check ( I’ve written about this before ). I found the place more easily than in past years, and got a pair of pyjamas which fit me on the first try – both good omens. The usual samples were given to the nurses when I checked in (produced this year not without some effort: of all times to get constipated). Now that it’s nearly a routine, like taking the subway, I can observe the check-up process a bit more detachedly, as though it’s all happening to someone else (except for the barium exam of my innards, which could only have been happening to me).
God, I thought, everyone looks so tired and old! Is that what office life does to someone in Japan? Then I remembered that the morning check-ups were reserved for men 35 and up. Looking around me, there seemed to be more ups than 35s. I didn’t see anyone who looked as though he even remembered being 35 (I do, but only what year it was). We all sat in our powder-blue pyjamas, waiting our turns for the weighing, blood pressure check, eye check, chest X-ray, blood test or what-not. A different-coloured stripe around the cuffs denoted the size of the pyjamas. I noted, with no satisfaction, that I was the only one with lime green cuffs. Most men’s cuffs were brown; a few small men’s, orange (as well as one stout man who was definitely in denial or too shy to ask for something larger).
The nurses (or technicians – I don’t know the difference) all wear powder-blue uniforms and black tights (and now I can’t recall if they wore caps). I have my blood pressure taken (normal!) by the same nurse who took it last year. A flicker of recognition from her, but she’s too professional to say anything other than “Roll up your sleeve, please” or “Relax your arm, please”. She has that kind of Lead-Actress’s-Best-Friend look about her. I wonder if her life is going as she’d hoped. Has she found someone? Is she happy? Does she get to do the eye tests or the blood-drawing every now and then, or does she perform the same function, year-in, year-out? The old-fashionedness of the place, the uniforms, give me old-fashioned, protective thoughts for this woman, who’s probably just wondering when she can go have lunch.
The barium wasn’t that bad, really (until it made a sudden encore appearance later in the day). I could have had another blood test done instead, but it would have cost ¥2000 extra and I’d forgotten to go to the bank. Outside the testing room were some cards with cute, cartoon food drawn on them. They were the flavours of barium you could request (strawberry, vanilla, coffee, and my choice – lemon – are the only ones I can recall). After drinking that taste sensation, I went through the same performance I do every year, even though they’ve finally installed new speakers, so the technician behind the thick, shaded glass no longer sounds like he’s communicating from a ham radio somewhere in the South Pacific. He still had to risk death and come out of his booth to turn me in the right direction more than once. At the end, as usual, we both good-naturedly apologized – him, unnecessarily, for his inability to give instructions in English; me, more justifiably, for continuing to misunderstand his Japanese. It’s a tradition by now – it almost puts me in the Christmas spirit.
The last test is always done by an actual doctor, who puts a stethescope to your chest and back and tells you to breathe deeply a few times. This has always been done by a large, elderly man, but this year a no-nonsense woman in her 50s seemed to have taken over, and not just his chair. I say this because the one doctor is often the owner of these check-up factories (for that is what they are – Japanese companies are required by law to provide these annual tests to their full-time employees). Maybe she was the old guy’s daughter – anyway, I’ll never know. She suggested I lose weight (an observation that doesn’t exactly require seven years of med school), drink less coffee, and join a gym. I will do all those things, again.
Changing back into my street clothes (there’s a locker room), I made my way out. The nurse at the uketsuke (reception desk) called me back. She waved a little green ziplock bag with a little tube inside. “What do you call this in English?” she asked.
“Um, stool sample,” I replied. She’d never heard it before. I wrote it down, and illustrated it with a smiling piece of poo, which received the ultimate Japanese accolade: kawaii (cute)! She thanked me profusely, and I noticed a gaijin in ill-ftting pyjamas standing by the loo. He nodded, sheepishly. My good deed for the day completed, I left, with resolutions to keep fit ringing in my ears as I walked down the highway toward the station and made a beeline for Mosburger.