“How do you know if you have Alzheimer’s?” said the front of the pamphlet. The answer inside was: “If you can’t remember what you ate for lunch, you don’t have Alzheimer’s. If you can’t remember whether you ate lunch or not, that’s Alzheimer’s.”
But I have a hunch that such “old timer’s” diseases start much earlier in life than we think. I’m convinced that senility starts in your 20s, when you wake up with a hangover and can’t remember the last bar you went to the night before. That is followed by years of “Where did I leave my car keys?” and “I completely forgot about that pizza in the back of the fridge that is now covered in mold,” and then to “I came into this room to get something — what was it?!”
The only reason these things don’t start happening earlier than in your 20s is because when you were younger, you didn’t drink, have a car, have your own fridge or own anything in the next room.
Should you follow the above progression and then also move to Japan, you’re set up for even more early onset of senility and premature “senior moments.” This is because living in a foreign country requires you to learn a whole new subset of skills for communication and survival, and thus you will have that many more things to forget or skills to deteriorate at some point in your life.
The following are some types of old timer’s diseases specific to foreigners in Japan. You may have experienced these symptoms already, even if you’re only in your 20s:
Japanese name Alzheimer’s
Despite having been told many times before, you still can’t remember if that guy’s name is Nishina-san or Nishida-san. Yamakawa, or Yamagawa? Or perhaps it’s actually Yamaguchi? No, no, come to think of it, it was Yamazaki. Yes, definitely maybe Yamazaki. And his wife is Kumiko. Or was it Yumiko? Or maybe it was Keiko. Mamiko? Sigh.
If you’re having trouble finding the right word to use in your native language, try finding it when speaking a second language. You say, “It starts with a fu, or mu . . .” as you rifle through the Japanese prefixes. Or maybe you remember the kanji but not the pronunciation, so you say, “Starts with the sanzui radical!” If you learned kanji via mnemonics, you’re really screwed: “The first kanji looks like a turkey sitting on the top of a tree!” you say, while all your Japanese friends go running. Let’s face it, there will be a point when your second language deteriorates so much that only your Japanese teacher will be able to understand you. God bless her!
Another sure sign of Language Alzheimer’s is when you start substituting words from other languages when you can’t remember the appropriate Japanese word.
Rather than your brain defaulting back to your native language, however, it stays in foreign language mode, and substitutes a word from one of the other foreign languages you know. This hijacking of your Japanese skills causes consternation among listeners because the substituted word from that language will surely be a word that also exists in Japanese, but with a completely different, and inappropriate, meaning.
You awake to clinking and clanging sounds which causes you to bolt out of bed screaming: Oh my God! Today is recyclable garbage day! You look at your watch — it’s just now 8 a.m.. You think, maybe possibly you can still catch the truck. If you can’t, you’ll have to wait until this time next month to put out those bags of garbage you’ve been harboring in the corner of the house or on the balcony.
You put on your running shoes, grab two large bags: one of beer cans and the other of convenience store plastic bento boxes, and run after the recycling truck. Even after they have politely stopped to accept your bags, you have to beg them to wait while you retrieve the last several months worth of recyclable garbage because you missed last month due to a business trip, the month before that due to a hangover and the month before that because of Gomi Alzheimer’s.
The inability to remember the current exchange rate. Even if you happen to remember that the current rate is 98 cents, you’ll be stumped as to whether that is 98 cents to ¥100 or ¥98 to one dollar. This results in a brain default to a straight one Australian, Canadian or U.S. dollar to ¥100 in order to allow the brain to stay on holidays a little longer.
When you go home to your native country, there are going to be times when you forget the driving rules. If you’re back home in Australia, you may find yourself stopping too far back from the traffic lights at the intersection due to their different placement. If you go back home to the U.S. or Canada, you will catch yourself trying to drive on the wrong side of the road.
Then when you come back to Japan, you may even get into your car and sit there for a moment before you realize something’s really wrong — there is no steering wheel in front of you! You have climbed into the passenger seat by mistake! You look around sheepishly, and if no one is watching, casually slide out of the car and walk around to the driver’s side and get in. If people are watching, however, you fumble around in the glove box for something important, even if it’s just the user’s manual (which actually, you could really use right now). You get out, with the manual firmly in hand, and walk around and get into the driver’s seat, after which you put that user’s manual away in the glove box again. Whew — no one noticed!
Now that I’m finished with this column, I am off to the immigration office to renew my visa before it expires. Now, where did I put that damn passport? I’ve looked in the fridge and the glove box but can’t find it anywhere!