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Who doesn’t have a story about visiting a doctor in Japan and feeling a little bit more worried than when you scheduled an appointment? What with all those blue tablets for the swelling to go down to the pink capsules that counteract the side effects of the orange pill, and the attendant who didn’t wear proper surgical gloves, there is really a lot to be desired from the medical services here in Japan.

Unfortunately, visiting the doctor is a necessity and we can’t do much about it except complain or make fun of the whole setup. We have to understand though that modern medicine only appeared in Japan a hundred years ago. Before that, the entire nation relied on medical journals smuggled out of Dejima. The details are hazy in my mind, but it seemed these journals were translated and studied but I don’t know about actual schooling in the science of medicine. Of course, during the Meiji Restoration, things changed. But considering that things haven’t really changed, like how people would like to think, there may be a few tricks left over from the years of isolation.

What a lot of us forget though is that this is Japan, so naturally, Western medicine should not be their forte here. What they are really good at, I suppose, is mainly their own healing mechanisms, things like Shiatsu massage, alternative medicine to most of us, but it is a way of life here. Herbal medicines, healing tea and alternative methods of healing are quite the thing here in Asia. Most martial arts and Shiatsu masters are able to tell by pressing down on nerves what is really causing you discomfort, and then they massage these imbalances out. Shiatsu is only one of many massage therapies offered here. Japan also has an abundance of Chiropractors, Reflexologists, and Accupressure Practitioners.

One of my superiors is a Reflexologist, and we have orders to consult her when we feel a cold or some other bout of something coming on. She gives us a really tear-jerking back rub, followed by a hot patch (called a hokkairo, ホッカイロ) placed somewhere in the lower back. You get really drowsy after, but after a really fitful sleep that night, you awake refreshed and full of energy. She’s done this for me more than a couple of times, all with the same result: my cold getting arrested and me getting a second (or third or fourth…) chance at life. As a bonus, I also save on that trip to that doctor which worries me so much…

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