‘Young people have no manners!” “Young people don’t want to work!” You hear it all the time, no matter what country or what era.
But I’m not one to point a finger at youth for our modern scourges. When I was young, we were criticized for our behavior too: loose morals, punk rock, smoking pot. We were a generation of Dead Heads and Valley girls who had no future. My junior high school class was even designated the worst ever at our school. Thank you.
So I guess the disaffected youth of today inherited something from their parents. It’s just that no one has come out and said exactly what that something is. (Punk rock, perhaps?) Blame aside, I see plenty of well-mannered, hardworking people both of the younger generations as well as my own, in Japan and my home country.
A few weeks ago I entered rehab for the first time. Physical rehabilitation that is, for my shoulder. Every Wednesday morning I leave my sapphire blue island in the Seto Inland Sea to alight on the mainland, where a hospital stands like a beacon on the edge of the water. It has it’s own pontoon to accommodate islanders who commute on their private boats in the nonstylized version of Japan’s “floating world.”
A couple years ago I came to this hospital afflicted with tennis elbow (even though I don’t play tennis), and now I’ve come down with swimmer’s shoulder (even though I don’t swim). What’s next? Sumo wrestler’s belly?
On the fourth floor is the “rehabily” clinic (rehabily — or, more correctly rendered, rihabiri — is Japanese for rehabilitation, not American hillbilly rehab). With picture windows that overlook the expanse of the Inland Sea, I never feel too far away from home. While I get my shoulder worked on for 30 minutes, I chat with my physiotherapist about everything from sports and lifestyle choices to Japan’s economy.
Interestingly, although my condition is called swimmer’s shoulder in the U.S., here they call it something different. My Japanese doctor diagnosed me with — take notice because this is a very technical explanation — “50s shoulder.” There you go, blame it on middle age! Apparently, if you are going to stay active past 50, you should expect to experience little frustrations like this.
With such nomenclature, one can only presume that if you come down with such a shoulder malady at 60, it would be called kanreki (60th birthday) shoulder. And think of all the people over 100 in Japan who probably suffer from centenarian toenail rot.
“I don’t remember how it happened,” I told my doctor. “It just started hurting, kept getting worse, and soon I had limited shoulder rotation even doing the simplest radio taisō exercises.
“It can strike out of nowhere,” the physiotherapist assured me. Never had I felt so vulnerable.
I was beginning to understand why they blame it on the 50s: There is nothing else to blame it on.
It’s as if on your birthday of this fifth decade, you’re ripe for a host of unexplainable — and, more importantly, unblamable — illnesses. It’s like having a row of middle-aged frogs sitting on your collar bone, waiting to hop in and start attacking your body. They enter at the shoulder, after which, with webbed feet, they swim through your bloodstream down to your 50s hips and 50s knees. It’s just as good an explanation as any. Personally, I’d suspect the over-user before blaming it on the age of the over-user, but hey, I’m not a doctor.
The 50s must be the point where you can no longer blame things on young people and so switch to blaming them on middle age. Or frogs. It’s a time when the muscles, tendons and joints, tired of working overtime for little pay, just throw in the towel.
None of these annoyances is serious, of course, but enough to keep me praying at Shinto shrines (please, not centenarian toenail rot!) and staying faithful to that other man in my life whom I am now casually dating every Wednesday at the rehabily clinic. My physical therapist’s age hovers around my own, and I guess he has what you’d call 50s ideas about life.
“It still surprises me when foreigners say Japan is a cheap country to travel in,” he said while gently nudging my arm into positions it didn’t want to go. “I can never consider Japan cheap. We just haven’t had any inflation in a long time.”
“And young people don’t like to spend money these days,” he said. He has a young daughter just starting out in the workforce. “When I was a college student, the thing I wanted most when I graduated and got my first job was to buy a nice car. These days, kids will drive anything. They don’t care, as long as it gets them from place to place.” He seemed to be a bit disappointed that they had lost that sense of Japanese pride in quality.
“Does this hurt?” he asked while stretching my arm toward the North Pole.
“Um, not really,” I said, as I felt the sharp pain gradually ease.
“And the young company employees don’t drink either,” he lamented, as if this were the ultimate indignity and assault on the Japanese social structure.
“Yep, they go straight home after work. They don’t want to go out with colleagues to bars, izakaya and such.”
He sighed for a moment before qualifying his statement: “Of course, it’s different in the cities. Change is slower to happen in the companies there.”
As I walked out of the clinic that day, my shoulder having been stretched to its limits but feeling better than ever, it occurred to me that the physio’s observations were probably right: A subtle change is sweeping through Japan’s countryside. While I sense his disappointment in the standards of Japan’s youth, he was also, unknowingly perhaps, praising them for being early adapters. And this was one case where the countryside was adapting faster than the city.
Blame it on the young people? Absolutely! I think they’re a lot smarter than we think.
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