Stayin’ alive in health check ‘stamprary’


I was recently asked to get a health check by one of my places of employment. On my planet, the United States, one doctor does the health check in 30 minutes. How boring.

In the Japanese way, you get an entire tour of the hospital, visiting each department by following colored lines drawn on the floor that guide you from station to station, and seeing several doctors along the way. It’s a set procedure, much like a Japanese “stamprary,” and all you have to do is plod along, follow the course and let out an occasional moo. Here’s a short guide.

Urine sample station

You will surely have a ureka moment inside the toilet stall, as you will suddenly realize there is a good reason for the existence of Japanese squat toilets: urine samples. While the newer hospitals have bathrooms with those windows in the stalls where you can pass over your sample, older hospitals (the ones that have toilet paper as rough as ostrich leather) still require you to walk your sample out of the bathroom over to a counter while everyone else looks on. Leaving the bathroom, one hand holding the cup and the other opening the door, can be a little tricky, as people are constantly walking into the bathroom not realizing that a “gaijin” with a urine sample is on the other side of the door. Therefore, I suggest you yell out, “Get outta my way, I got pee.” People will scatter. Moo and you’re on to the next station.

Chest X-ray station

When I went into the little room with the X-ray machine, a nice, good-looking young man came out in a smock and asked me if I had a “hohku” in my bra. “No, no forks in my bra,” I said. “Not hohku, hukku,” he repeated. “Ah! No, no hooks in there either,” I told him. (What did he think, I was going fishing after this?) How about “andah-waiyah,” he asked. “Nope, no under wires,” I said.

The man must have been in complete shock, since Japanese women seem to carry a whole barrage of accouterments in their bras. If you’ve ever wondered why young Japanese women’s breasts point straight out like torpedoes, I’m about to tell you. Under-wire bras in Japan are more like full metal rocket launching pads. In addition, Japanese women must have seen too many episodes of “Wonder Woman,” because all their bras are first padded, then covered in bronze coating. If you didn’t have breasts before, you’ll have them after strapping on one of these contraptions. The young technician was understandably concerned. Imagine what these things could do to an X-ray machine! Moo and you’re on your way to the . . .

Disco eye test station

I would think a better way to judge eyesight would be having to read a shinkansen ticket and find your reserved seat in the nonsmoking, no-announcements car on the limited express train going to Fukuoka only on Tuesdays, but the Japanese have a different way of testing eyesight that is closer to disco dancing. Really. The eye chart has several lines of circles on it, and each circle has a gap somewhere in it. The nurse points to a random circle on the chart, and you have to use your finger to point in the direction of the gap. If you point up, the gap is in the top of the circle; if you point to the right, the gap is on the right side of the circle. If your vision is good, you’ll have no problem telling where the gap is and you’ll be flying through the exercise with your fingers shooting in all kinds of directions. Swing the hips a bit and start singing “Stayin’ Alive.” Moo and you’re on your way to the . . .

Hearing test station

You can probably skip the hearing test, since by the time you get to this station, you’ll be sure you can hear just fine, because you will have heard a receptionist in each department waiting room drone out your name, as in “Chavez-saaaamaaaaaaaaa” in an intonation obviously taught and practiced to perfection, with a rising and falling tone in just the right places. Typically, the doctors hide behind doors with numbers on them. When the doctor is ready to see you, the receptionist drones your name and a door number. “Chavez-saaaamaaaaaaaaa. San-ban no heya ni ohairi kudasai” (“Please go behind door No. 3”). What’s behind door No. 3?

Carol Merrill?