I had already tried massage, but my back and shoulders were still hurting from a pinched nerve. So, I tried “hari.” Hari is acupuncture. “Hari,” also the Japanese word for needle, but with a different kanji, is almost always written in hiragana, perhaps to make it seem less threatening. I had spotted the old, dirty sign while walking in the city and decided to give it try right then. I walked into a tiny room with curtains and a woman who greeted me. She said she could give me treatment right away. No names, no forms to fill out.
“Is this your first time?” she asked me. “Yes,” I said, relieved that an explanation would follow. But no explanation followed. “Your first time?” I asked, referring to her treating a “gaijin.” “Yes,” she said. I offered no explanation.
She told me to lie on my back, and she leaned over me and submerged the first eight needles into my body. Tap-tap with a small hammer, two into each arm: tap-tap, tap-tap. Two into each calf: tap-tap, tap-tap. Then she pointed a heat lamp on my stomach and left me.
The needles were sticking out of me in pairs. They were very thin needles. If I moved my arm just slightly, they’d wave at me. Great.
After 10 minutes, she pulled out the needles and told me to roll over on my stomach. She stuck at least 20 more needles into my body. Talk about body piercing! Tap-tap, tap-tap. I wonder if she sells silver hoops and rings too. Tap-tap. Maybe body piercing is really just permanent acupuncture.
“Do any of them hurt?” she asked.
“Of course they hurt! They’re neeeeeeedles!” I wanted to say. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized they didn’t hurt at all. Even the needles in my head didn’t hurt.
She left me again, this time for 30 minutes. There I was, displayed like a butterfly pinned to cardboard. I wondered, should I spread my wings out a little? Perhaps the lamp was for observation purposes too. But so far, no observers. I guess I wasn’t a very interesting foreign insect after all.
Every now and then, the needles in my arm would wave at me. Did I twitch a muscle? I don’t think so. With the proximity of Mars these days, maybe someone was trying to make contact. I didn’t really know how to interpret the waving needles, so I just smiled back at them. You know, just in case.
Then it hit me — was I was being used as a voodoo doll? Perhaps foreigners all over Japan were saying “Ouch! Ouch!” as they felt needles prick their bodies. Did anyone else out there feel your belly getting hot? Tap-taps out of nowhere? Or maybe you looked down and suddenly had a pierced belly button with a silver ring.
The woman (I never thought to ask her name) was still gone. Was she preparing a chant? A spell? And why me? Why should she pick me to represent the foreign population? Just then, she appeared from behind the curtain.
She waved her hands over me: “A curse on you, tumble into smoking stew. May a black snake catch you by the heel, and hornets get you when you kneel. Bedbugs eat you by night, all goes wrong nothing right, lest my daughter pass the English STEP test.”
As she pulled out the needles, I woke up.
“How do you feel?” she asked.
“Great. The pain is gone.” I thanked her, gave her 4,000 yen and left.
I’ve had no problems with my back since. Of course, her daughter hasn’t taken the English STEP test yet either.