One Saturday night in November, a few of us went to Spa World, a sort of hot-spring resort in downtown Osaka. While there, I weighed myself and realized to my shock that I weighed more than I had ever weighed in my life. That I am not slim and have not been since late in the last century is no state secret, but this was a new low in high.
I was upset. I thought I had been doing my best to eat healthfully and remain active, but since my summer holidays in Canada (not a time of moderation), I had been gradually backsliding. The result was screaming at me from the scales.
By coincidence, a notice had been posted around the schools that week that reservations were being taken for the annual company health check (mandated by law here). There was no way I was going in there weighing 4 kgs more than I had the year before (I checked 2008’s feedback report). I resolved to shape up as much as I could in the 6 weeks between then and the check-up (which I had requested for the 8th of December, but was reserved for the 15th – not one co-worker I mentioned this to got the the reservation time they’d requested, which made me wonder why they’d even bothered asking us).
Now, that didn’t mean going on a crash diet. I mentioned my predicament to some students, who immediately shouted out “Banana diet!” “Apple diet!” ” Natto diet!” (the last one would have been extreme because I would sooner fast, Gandhi-like, for 6 weeks than eat natto). Fad diets are huge here, because in Japan, sadly, you can never be too thin. But I was trying not to go short-term. I simply cut back on bread and sweets, ate more vegetables and beans, walked more, and forced myself to go to the gym (which, whether I go to or not, I’m still paying for, after all). I didn’t do anything spectacular – I just went three or four times a week and did some machines, dumbells, sit-ups, elliptical, and (because I can barely swim) walking in the pool. I went in the late-afternoon/early evening, between 4:30 and 7 (this is the optimum time, because day-members of the gym are leaving and the office workers don’t start arriving till after six; there also seem to be fewer irritating people about). By the time the place is filled up with evening members, I’m either in the sauna or bathing or heading home for a light supper. My sleep improved, my back felt better because I wasn’t slouching as much, and yes, I could do up a few more collar buttons in a few more work shirts. I didn’t so much lose weight as displace it, but I felt, after six weeks, much better, and somewhat lighter (about 3 kgs down in six weeks).
So it was with uncharacteristic enthusiasm that I went to my annual health check. My stomach was growling because it was nearly 10 AM (I’d requested 9, but so what?) and I hadn’t been allowed to eat for 12 hours, but I didn’t mind. I went through the usual routine (already recounted here and here) with what I thought were flying colours – weight just below last year’s, so I at least broke even; 20/20 vision; hearing normal; blood pressure normal (and 0.4 cm taller than last year!). The only thing left after the barium and stomach x-ray (the technician was particularly cranky this year, but it must be a pretty boring job) was to have the physician check my heart and lungs with a stethescope and off I’d go.
When I walked into his office (cubicle, really), the first thing he said (and not in a friendly way) was “Wow! You’re too big!” This deflated me somewhat. I told him as best I could what I had been doing to shape up. He just shook his head and said several times,”Diet! Diet!” (pronounced “Daietto! Daietto!”). “What kind?” I asked, exasperated. “Daietto! Daietto!” he repeated. He was about 7o, scrawny, and looked like a Japanese doctor straight from Central Casting, horn-rimmed glasses and all. As he listened to my chest, I could smell the breakfast cigarettes on his breath, but it could also have been just Old Man Smell (they tend to occur together, though). This old git had the nerve to lecture me on healthy living!
I found out later that he said exactly the same thing to the next guy in line, an Australian who was stocky, but certainly lighter than me; I think this doctor was of the – happily dying off – All Gaijin Are Fat school of Japanese medicine. Well, he put a damper on my day.
But only briefly. I made my way to the traditional post-checkup Mosburger chow-down, and, that ritual over, I finally got into the Christmas mood. It’s amazing what you can make into a tradition, if you put your mind to it. If I’m lucky, staying healthy will become one of them.
Of course, I say that every year, too.