The first few weeks in Japan have been quite intense. As my girlfriend and I tried to settle into our new normal lives, it didn’t take long for some rather unusual experiences to occur.
Health checks and origami
Let’s first de-generalise before describing the oddities: at my girlfriends university, the medical examination can hardly be called strict. For example, just stating she’d had a check-up done by a doctor back at home was enough. In my case, all students are obliged to go every year, like in most Japanese companies.
Strangely though, having a chest x-ray taken is part of the deal, and this is done every year! When a friend of mine asked a Japanese student about it, he said he’s aware of the health risks of x-rays, but it’s just something they have always done.
Anyway, as there were many foreign students doing the check-up with varying levels of Japanese proficiency, communication between medical staff and students quickly fell down to cavemen-like noises, which was at times funny but not very efficient.
Another requirement was a fresh urine sample. Getting it was in itself a hilarious experience. First, we had to fold a small box of about 10 by 5 cm, all in true origami-fashion, fill it up and then transfer the liquid from there into a small, bottle-like container. All the while lining up to get into the health centre, I was carrying that thing with me. Once I was in, there were so many desks where different health measurements were done, but none of them appeared to be the spot where you hand over your sample.
After what felt like ages, it was finally my turn at the last desk. This was the last stop before the exit, so it had to be here, right? So I handed over my urine sample to the lady behind the desk with a sense of self-achievement for having gotten through all of this — but then when her eyes met my sample with terror, I knew I had been deeply mistaken yet again. I had to run back and find the “urine station” and once there, it appeared that after a few drops of the sample had been tested for abnormalities, you had to squeeze out the remainder of it in the same bucket in which countless other gentlemen before you had emptied theirs… Apologies for the detailed description.
That’s not all. In two months, I have to go back for this:
They’re clearly trying to make it look cute. Actually, it’s just an invitation for an electrocardiogram, which is apparently not painful and is done in a matter of minutes. It just shows to what great lengths they go in Japan to make sure you remain healthy.
No “just looking”!
Other than the silly and almost cliché love hotel experience, our very first full day in Japan was marked by an odd experience we had when buying Japanese phone chargers. High service standard and very welcoming shopkeepers shouting “Irasshaimasèèè!” are some well-known “unique characteristics” of Japan (though customer-friendliness really shouldn’t be unique to Japan), but this was on a different level.
We went to Shinsaibashi in Osaka to buy iPhone chargers. It was a calm Sunday and we were early, so we had to wait roughly half an hour before the opening at 10 AM – but we weren’t alone. In all, about 50-60 people were lining up by the time the store would open. Apple Stores are notorious for this phenomenon, so we started to get somewhat excited as it looked like we were about to witness a new product launch or some special event by chance!
Suddenly, we were sorted into three separate lines by some staff members donned with iPads, based on what we wanted to do. We had three options: buy a new Apple product, buy an accessory or have something repaired. They might as well have said: “Ladies and gentlemen, prepare your wallets!”
We were also asked for our passports, which baffled us at first, but at least that was for a good reason: if you’re a tourist staying in Japan for less than three months (unlike us), you can shop tax-free in plenty of places.
And then we got in…
Alas, our enthusiasm quickly cooled down. Even inside, we had to line up once again. As we waddled in, staff members were all lined up at the door and they literally gave a round of applause.
Looking back, it was all pretty hilarious, and we’re really just curious what else Japan has in store (pun intended)!