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Saturday, Sept. 28, 2002


Drugstores spread queasy headaches

I'm afraid to go to the doctor in Japan. If I did, he might bring up the bread crusts. You know, those mammoth slices of bread in Japan with crusts that take forever to chew all the way through? If the doctor looked down my throat, he might see into my stomach and say, "Look at all those bread crusts you haven't chewed!" Then he'd spot all those coffee rings lining my stomach and the corn flakes stuck to the sides.

Whoever decided on the dimensions of Japanese "shokupan" bread anyway? Like America has Keebler elves who make cookies, maybe in Japan they have giants who make bread. Or perhaps it's an affirmative action program to give giants jobs.

To avoid going to the doctor, I just go to the drugstore to find cures. If you have never been inside a Japanese drugstore, I recommend going just for the spectacle. Many are festival-style drugstores with employees wearing traditional "happi" coats and headbands yelling, "Irrashaimase!" Neon pink-and-yellow price tags glow under fluorescent lights, advertising blares over loudspeakers, and goods spill out onto the sidewalk as if the store had just vomited all its contents out onto the pavement. Anyone who walks in healthy will surely leave with a headache and bottle of aspirin.

Even the smaller drugstores without the festival atmosphere and bright lights are designed to give you some kind of disease upon entering. These small, dark stores display posters and photographs of everything that bleeds, puses and festers. They're more like museums of maladies, with all matters of purulence on display. So the next time you think of going to a horror movie, I encourage you to think instead, "Let's go look at some wounds!" and enter the local drugstore.

Upon entering, you will be reminded of what is already lurking in your body. A poster shows a case of athlete's foot that has progressed to its advanced stage. Another poster asks, "Do you have knee pain?" and offers a summary of the symptoms, one of which you'll surely have. The chart next to it outlines the Four Causes of Knee Pain, one of which you're bound to have. Want to know what a bunion looks like? Maybe you have one! Swollen gums? There's a cure! You'll also be reminded that accidents are awaiting you: In one photo, pus oozes out of a smashed thumbnail.

A poster near the medicated dressings shows the stages of an infection: a glorious array of pinks, reds, purples and greens.

Why such graphic photos? Is it to encourage you to check, while you're in the shop, if you have putrid white stuff between your toes? Or maybe it's to spur instant recognition: Hey, that's my fungus! I'm surprised they don't have scratch 'n' sniff cards. I'm not sure if they're trying to gross you out, or gross you in -- to buying medicine for a queasy stomach.

Do you think the photos are copyrighted? Maybe photographers include them in their portfolios under categories such as "pus shots" and "festering pustulations."

And how how does one become a pus model, or a part-time fungus model? Do they, for a couple of thousand dollars, smash a thumb, grow fungus between their toes or even have a car run over their thigh? Or perhaps paparazzi fungus photographers hang out in locker rooms, and pus photographers set up next to construction sites to get fresh thumb bangers.

By the time you are finished surveying this little shop of horrors, you are sure to walk out convinced you have some malady you didn't know you had. The good thing is, you have probably bought the remedy too, so you will be cured of whatever it wasn't.

Now, if they would just find a cure for unchewed bread crusts . . .

Contact Amy at amychavez2000@yahoo.com or visit the "Japan Lite" home page at www.amychavez.com

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