Diary of a Globetrotting Family
Daily life in a major Japanese city… complete with antibiotics
Life there wasn’t harried, but neither was it still. That paraphrases the end of one of my favorite books, Louise Penny’s Still Life, the first of her acclaimed Three Pines/Inspector Gamache series. A certain flip of that applies to everyday Osaka.
Life in this large city is bustling, but it is also serene.
Every week in this wee diary, we’ve talked about many facets and observations of our family’s world travels. This week, we’re going to offer a little something different. A few vignettes, snapshots of day-to-day life here as we’ve experienced it. But we’ll start with a trip to the doctor.
One hundred and six degrees
The human body is an amazing yet bewildering combination of processes, creations, and secretions. And of all the things our bodies can do, I’ve always found fever fascinating. On the one hand, it can defend us from wannabe invader infections. But like any fire that gets out of hand, fever that gets too high—at least one hundred and three Fahrenheit, or thirty-nine point four celsius—can become dangerous. Even life-threatening.
The morning after the spot on the back of my leg had become a swollen, red mass, I took my temperature, lay back down next to Jodie, and saw her looking at me.
I told her what the thermometer had said, and she swore.
Though personally I didn’t think it was that big of a deal. Then again, she was still half asleep, and had been worried about me ever since yesterday evening. Coming back from a worldschool day trip our group of many families had taken to nearby Nara for deer feeding, sakura appreciating, and temple wandering, I’d felt what I thought was merely tired and a bit dehydrated.
But in the morning, nothing was much better. The strange spot on my leg continued to feel swollen, red, and tender.
Then, of course, there was the fever.
Jodie and I started to strategize what we were going to do.
“On the plus side, it’s barely a fever,” I said. “Medically speaking, as far as I understand a person’s temperature has to be at least a hundred point four Fahrenheit before it’s even considered a fever. Anything below that is considered normal body temp variance.”
Jodie sipped her coffee. “What did you say your temperature was again?”
“One hundred point six.”
She closed her eyes and leaned her head back. “Oh my gosh,” she said at last. “When you told me, I thought you said one hundred AND six.”
“Wow,” I replied. “I think I sounded pretty calm for someone who probably should be delirious and in a hospital.”
We started to laugh, and she said, “I wondered how you were so calm about it.”
Calm, sure. But I was slightly feverish, with a strange, red, growing area on the back of my leg. Jodie found a nearby clinic, with English-speaking staff, and I boogied over there after breakfast, hoping a doctor would get me sorted out.
I figured I had an ingrown hair that had gone haywire. Which is one of the many reasons I am not a doctor.
The doctor took one look, and immediately prescribed me a week of antibiotics, plus a probiotic to try to keep my microbiome in decent nick.
“You have cellulitis,” he explained (and I paraphrased). “There was some sort of break in the skin, and an ambient bacteria got in. It’s usually staph or strep, the sort of bacteria that’s everywhere, but if it gets under your skin, it can get pretty bad. I’m glad you came in when you did.”
Then he grinned. “And I don’t even have to cut.”
I smiled back. “If you had, I would have tried to face it with proper fortitude.”
We had a good laugh. Minutes later, I was back in the waiting room. A staff member brought over my two prescriptions, went over everything with me, and made sure I understood exactly what I was taking, what each pill did, when I was supposed to take them, and for how long.
Since we’re not on Japan’s social health insurance program, I’d be paying for the visit out of pocket. We have travel insurance, so I also had that pulled up, ready to make a claim if need be, for reimbursement after payment.
The person at the front desk called me and went over the bill with me, making sure I understood everything.
Two prescriptions. The examination by a doctor.
I gladly handed over my fave travel rewards card.
And they charged me the US$67 that was due.
Fast forward, I’m writing this a few days after I completed my course of medication… and I am just about fully healed. The antibiotics wiped out the infection. Now my skin is finishing its healing, and one of the fortunate side effects of being a writer is that writing is an excellent distraction from the itching that now and again takes hold, like now, oh for goodness sake…
But in short? In Japan, I came down with a common bacterial skin infection. Dealing with it turned out to be beyond my and Jodie’s travel medical kit, our ability to search the Internet, and the modest first aid section of the convenience store up the street. Within twenty-four hours of figuring out not only that something was wrong, but that I needed medical attention, a doctor had assessed me, provided a diagnosis, prescribed treatment, and I was on the way to being healed.
No one likes getting sick on the road. Especially me. But if something had to be wrong with me, I don’t think I could have asked for or hoped for a better path to mending than what we just had.
Daily life in a major Japanese city
The drizzle came down harder, but we put on our rain jackets and got ready to leave anyway. Spring had come to Osaka. But the city’s many outdoor covered markets reminded us of Oregon: Do things in the rain, or don’t do things at all.
Leaving our neighborhood, we stopped at the corner and prepared to cross a street on the way to the train station. Raindrops pattered on my red jacket, and Jodie’s mustard-yellow one, and Aster’s light purple. Connor felt like wearing only his fleece, but the rain was slack enough that he would likely be fine. His blue jacket was in my backpack, just in case.
Waiting at a crosswalk, two elderly ladies, each holding an umbrella, approached us. They stopped, and one of the women held her umbrella toward us.
“A gift,” she said.
Understanding, we bowed, and politely refused. Jodie and I pointed to our jackets, and gestured as best we could that with them on, the rain was no big deal. The ladies bowed back, and asked where we were from. The light changed, and they wished us well as we crossed the street.
Such is life in Osaka, where an elderly lady might offer to give up her own umbrella to somebody else walking in the rain.
One of the families we have been hanging out with in Osaka also has an eight-year-old daughter. She and Aster have realized they have a lot in common—such as their preference when riding trains.
No seats available on a train? No worries. Not quite tall enough to reach the hand rings above? No big. Rings must be for hanging, arms stretched, toes barely touching the ground. The girls sway a little, and their fingers redden as they try to hang on. They giggle, and eventually let go, opting instead to stand next to each other, holding on as best they can when the train comes to a stop.
Just one more syllable
After a couple of months of somewhat diligent study on Duolingo, I now have the Japanese skills of, probably, a toddler. Now and again though, I can recognize a little something in speech, or a few symbols on a screen or a menu or a train sign make sense. It’s like skimming a page of English and realizing you can recognize, say, five letters out of the twenty-six letters of the English alphabet. It’s important to take a moment to celebrate that small victory—and it can motivate you as you remember how much more learning you still have to do, even to gain basic comprehension.
In Osaka’s Tempozan Marketplace, Jodie kept the kids company on a bench while they ate sushi and I went in search of lunch entrees for me and her. The labyrinthine market has narrow, curvy lanes that feel like something out of an older Japanese city. The effect is actually quite effective, and it actually becomes quite easy to forget that you are actually in the back corner of a modern, packed shopping center that also has well-known brands like KFC and Uniqlo.
But passing by one sign, I saw the most important thing I needed to see: Breaded, fried pork cutlet, over a bed of rice.
And of the hiragana symbols next to the photo, I could even recognize the first two.
But the last two eluded me. Instead of merely firing up Google Translate though, I opted for another, interpersonal app: Being willing to ask.
“Sumimasen,” I said to a woman in front of me in line. “Excuse me.” I pointed to each character as I said, “Ka, tsu…” and I held my fingers near the last symbols.
“Don,” she said.
I bowed deeply and said, “Arigato gozaimasu. Thank you very much.”
Syllable by syllable. Character by character. Moment by moment. Ask by ask.
We learn. And above all, we learn that we can always find help.
Cloud vending machine
On our way to karaoke with friends one afternoon, not far from Osaka’s Namba Station, we passed near the blue-glass tower of the massive Marriott hotel.
Aster looked up. And up. And up a bit more.
“That’s the tallest building I’ve ever seen!” she said to me. “I wonder if they sell clouds.”
If you need a slogan for your fish shop
Never in my life have I wanted to run a fish shop, until our walking tour of Osaka wound its way through Shinsekai.
Above the entrance of the After Note apparel shop, full of fine clothes, I noticed an even better slogan.
“Mi casa. Tu casa,” said one part of the sign. And on the other?
“Only the ‘finnest.’”
I don’t know about you but if ever I indulge a secret desire to become a fishmonger, I know exactly what the slogan should be.
My favorite souvenir from Japan
After a big day of exploring Osaka with our worldschooling friends, Jodie and the kids relaxed at home, while I went out to nearby Sumiyoshi Park. Some of our friends had met up there for a last bit of play. We chatted a while, and as groups gradually said their good-byes and went off for various evening and dinner plans, I noticed the low sun and the gleaming white petals of the cherry blossoms, and took a stroll around the park.
Around small ponds, large gray birds—I believe a type of heron—stood like statues by the water’s edge. Each barely moved, unless it was to potentially skewer dinner on a beak.
Fencing surrounded one area of cherry trees. Signs here and there, at little gaps in the fencing, said that this was the only area of the park where it was okay to bring your grill.
From young adults to a couple of businessmen, people sat on blankets under the cherry trees, which were now hitting peak sakura. The sun cast long, golden beams on the blossoms, on the trees, on the pond, on the birds, and on each of us who was enjoying the sweet sundown serenity of sakura in a park.
Rounding the ponds, I started back toward home. Completely safe, in a completely safe place. No worries. No fears.
That feeling may just be my favorite souvenir from Japan.
The three parts of Japan
Throughout the weeks we have traveled in Tokyo and Osaka, Connor’s affinity for Japan and Japanese culture have become stronger and stronger.
“Japan has everything I like,” he told us one afternoon. “Japan combines cuteness, deliciousness, and awesomeness.”
The kid’s right on, too. Maybe that’s why, lately, we’ve noticed that whenever we’ve been out, we talk about returning not to our room, or rental, or townhouse. We talk about going home.