Monthly Archives: March 2013

Fitness update


This morning. All ready but unable to run!

Well. I promised to put before and after shots at 8kg lost. I’m now down 9, but am really nto ready to post a thing like that, so will change my own rules! (That’s 19.8 pounds for all you Burmese, Liberians and Americans out there).

So, four months in, here’s what I am doing, and what I have changed:

1. Couch to 5k programme. Love this. Hated running previously. Really hated it. Ever since I was seven years old and my brownie leader came up to me, laughed at me and said “you run funny”, I have hated running. What sort of person says that to a seven year old? Running has always been associated with pain and discomfort. When I started, the 1.5 minute running portions were torture. Somehow, I have managed to get (almost) to the end of this programme, and honestly, I love it. I have foot problems that flare up on occasion, and so can’t run today, and that is making me frustrated.

2. Yoga. I have been doing different yoga videos (primarily Denise Austin and Jillian Michaels). I have to admit I don’t necessarily enjoy it, but I enjoy the results, and understand the importance of not neglecting my muscles/ upper body/ inner Madonna in The Next Best Thing (because I am so in and hip with the pop culture that I reference 90s Madonna movies that get 2 stars on IMDB).

3. My fitness pal. Counting calories works for me and works well. It helps me be aware fo what foods I eat. I don’t cut anything out, but I try and keep mostly healthy (whole grains, lean protein, olive oil, lots of fruit and veggies, stevia instead of sugar where possible). MFP has helped me be aware of the caloric value of the choices I make, e.g. chips versus celery and peanut butter, and their impact on my daily calories. I tend to try and make choices that will keep me full and feeling good.

4. Other exercise. I walk a lot. I swim when I can’t run. I try and keep other exercise up when I can.

I mentioned doing T-Tapp videos previously. I have chosen not to continue with those, as I started feeling unsafe with them. This was because some of the moves involved a lot of bending and bouncing, that I didn’t feel comfortable with. I may try some of her walking videos though.

Overall, I’m happy with my progress. I want to be in healthy BMI range for my height, which is still a few kg away. I am enjoying getting healthy and enjoying looking after my body.


Woman versus Inoshishi

Japan has all sorts of cute and cuddly wildlife. There’s the mukade, a giant centipede with a poisonous bite. This creature is dreaded in the summertime, when they consider apartments a great place to live (except mine thus far). If that isn’t kind enough, you can consider the giant hornet. As the saying goes – two stings = death (thankfully these things live far, far up in the mountains – although Kyle and I did encounter two on a hike near Hiroshima once. They’re the size of a freaken small bird). If insects aren’t your thing, there’s a wonderful variety of snakes. I get that nearly every country has snakes, but I come from one of the three without. Heck, I was 25 the first time I ever saw one. Unless you count a road kill one in Germany. Even then I was 23.


Exhibit A, from wikipedia

These are Japan’s typical “scary creatures”. None have bothered me, however. Instead I seem to get bothered by the not-so-dreaded inoshishi. The inoshishi is a wild boar. It lives in the mountains. I live by the mountains, as did Kyle when he lived here. See the problem? I had been promised that the inoshishi never bothers people. Lied to would be a better way of describing it. Betrayed even.


Terrifying, right?

My first run in with an inoshishi was on my way to Kyle’s one lunchtime. I was bringing McDonalds with me, as part of a balanced diet. It smelt good. Apparently the baby inoshishi, that I hadn’t noticed in the car park below, thought so too. So I was chased by a baby inoshishi for a while. Turns out I can out run little, baby inoshishi. And by little I mean bigger than my Labrador. I’m not sure if running is what you’re actually meant to do when chased, but it I seemed like a good idea at the time.

My next run in went a little differently. I was heading home from Kyle’s one Sunday evening. I got to the same car park, when suddenly a massively giant, huge inoshishi of doom started to chase me and try and steal my stuff. Thinking of my own personal safety, I did the only logical thing I could think of. I dropped the plastic bag I was carrying and slowly walked backward. It was more of a reflex action really, and turned out to be a bad one. See, it turns out I had all of my lesson plans for work the next week in that bag. They were all together in a blue folder. The inoshishi took an exploratory bite out of it, and decided it wasn’t worth pursuing. Instead it chose another item in the bag. My wallet. I had transferred my wallet to the bag for easy access when I needed to go through the ticket gate for the train. This also made it easy access for the inoshishi.

So there was me, a giant, snorting fire-breathing inoshishi, and my wallet. The inoshishi seemed quite proud of its new wallet. And very defensive. I was stuck. After a couple of minutes of cautious stand off between myself and the thieving inoshishi, ihe seemed to get bored, and wander off. I started to inch my way toward my wallet. The inoshishi wasn’t about to let that happen. It was his wallet now. So I called Kyle, who lived ten minutes away and had just fallen asleep. He was delighted at the prospect of getting up, dressed and walking down the mountain to rescue me from wild inoshishi. He made this clear.

So it was me, and the inoshishi. Our territories invisibly defined. We both stood our ground, defending what we believed to be rightfully ours. The wallet.

Eventually a salaryman came out of the station and started walking down the other side of the street. The inoshishi saw him. He didn’t have a crummy plastic bag, he had a briefcase!this was too much for the inoshishi to bear. He left my wallet (which I swiftly collected) and started chasing this heroic, unintentional stranger. The inoshishi pursued this man for a minute or so, until the man suddenly became brave, turned, and chased the inoshishi back. The startled inoshishi ran around in swift circles for a bit, then ran up the mountain, never to be seen. I gathered the rest of my stuff.

Then Kyle showed up.

After Kyle moved back home, I thought I was free of the inoshishi. But alas, I’m not. I currently attend a weekly appointment in a different area of town. Two weeks ago I was on my way, and looked down into the drain below me. There seemed to be two dogs. But they weren’t. I saw them last week too. Thankfully they had no way of getting up to me, and my wallet is safe.


The famous drain inoshishi. My weekly tormenters.

Desperate times call for desperate measures

Desperate times call for desperate measures

A portable toilet, for all those times you need to go, on the go!

Healthcare in Japan, part two – how it works (for me at least)

I tried to write this a few days ago, but it ended up being a ramble on medicines. Medicines are important, but there is a whole lot more to the story.

As someone with limited Japanese proficiency, seeing doctors here has been a steep learning curve. It has pushed me to be more informed and aware of my body and what I need. I have had fantastic experiences, and I have had awful ones. I have found I need to push harder than I may back home. I have learned is to trust my gut.

At Christmas time, when I had a nasty ear infection and was meant to fly. Tunnels hurt. Riding in a car hurt (literally felt like going down in an aeroplane every time we turned a corner). I was having to chew gum on my breaks at work to relieve pressure (with my co-teacher’s blessing). But I went to both my family doctor, who didn’t even check my ear but told me I was fine. I went to an ENT specialist who glanced at the outside of my eardrum and told me I had some inflammation but would be fine. I didn’t feel fine, but I packed my bag, not wanting to miss the chance to see my fiance.

My gut still kept telling me there was something wrong. It didn’t feel right. I knew I shouldn’t fly. The day of my flight I found out about an ENT I could likely see before I needed to leave for the airport. I boarded the train toward town. There is a tunnel between my station and the centre of the city. The pain going through the tunnel was horrendous. The “pop” my ears had after going through was worse than anything I had experienced flying. The last thing I could imagine was descent from a real, actual plane if a tunnel was causing me that much agony. The new ENT ran a number of tests.  He detected a problem with pressure in my inner and advised me not to fly. This is after having been told twice that I was safe to fly.

This is not the only time I have had this happen. I can think of two other occasions where I was told I was fine and needed further treatment when I found someone else, or was misdiagnosed.

Having Japanese health insurance gives you access to very affordable care. Japanese people see the doctor very frequently. I can see any doctor I wish. Appointments are not usually necessary, and a wide range of services are covered, for example dental and medical massage. I find it difficult to criticise the system as a whole, as Japanese people have great health outcomes (especially considering the rates of smoking), and care is so affordable and accessible.  And I have received some truly excellent care. My current specialist is amazing. He understands completely, gives me excellent treatment, and used to be a researcher for Yale into the specific type of medicines I am on. I do take a bus and 6-7 trains to be able to see him though (work – doctor – home).

I guess my biggest advice to anyone trying to figure it out for the first time is to be aware of your choices. Most big cities have English-speaking doctors. If it’s something that there is a speciality in, go to that specialist, even if you may not back home. Ask around (and google) and you can get recommendations. Don’t be afraid to get second and third opinions, and change doctor if you are not happy. Great care is available and accessible for an English speaker in or near a major Japanese city, but sometimes it takes a bit of searching. (I can’t comment on more inaka places, as I don’t have the experience).


Thoughts and Reflections on March 11th, Part One

James @ Mongolia to the Moon wrote this excellent reflection on the earthquake and
Tsunami to hit Japan on March 11, 2011.

Mongolia To The Moon

I remember it was Graduation Day. It was bright and sunny but still cold – the sort of weather that causes people to stuff their hands in their pockets, squint their eyes down away from the sun, and hunch their shoulders against the short, sharp wind. You could feel winter resisting the encroaching spring – still holding on up in the mountains where we were. I remember the smell of the dust mingling with that of gas from the heaters. It gave the gym a dry, stuffy feel. I remember the applause, the footsteps on the wood stage, the feedback from the microphone, the tears, the sobbing, the laughing, the singing, the clicks of the camera shutters, the flashes. I remember the handshakes, the hugs, the congratulations. I remember the students leaving the school grounds for the last official time. I remember the pleasant exhaustion afterward – the sort of…

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Healthcare in Japan (part one – medication)

In my three years in Japan, I have been to the doctor more times than the rest of my life combined. I have found myself to be rather accident-prone and illness-catching (except for this year’s influenza?..I hope). As a result, I have become very, very familiar with the Japanese healthcare system. Healthcare here is different to back home (with it being a different country and all).

I find doctors are very quick to give prescriptions and treatment here. I once ducked to a local doctor because I had nausea. It wasn’t severe, and if I didn’t need to go to one (or buy medicine) for sick leave, I would have simply stayed at home and rested. The doctor palpated my stomach, gave me x-rays, decided it was a simple stomach bug, and sent me home with three diferent types of medication If I have the slightest sniffle at work, it is guarenteed that someone will ask me if I’m taking medication. Antibiotics are very, very commonly used here.

On the other hand, over the counter medication is very weak. My mother, who used to work as a midwife, was astounded to find 60mg doses of paracetemol (midwives in NZ have prescribing rights, so she knows her painkillers). Ibuprofen tends to be in really small doses as well, and the “strong” type is still only 75% of the dose of a regular nurofen or advil. So, whilst medication is very popular, people tend to use smaller doses more often.  When prescribed it can be a bit of both worlds – I have been given very weak doses and very strong ones, depending on the doctor.

A lot of medication isn’t approved for use here. This isn’t unique to Japan. In researching my medications for when I leave Japan, I have found certain ones I use are not approved in Nz or the USA – I guess simply one of the factors of living between countries. Pseudoephedrine is illegal here, for example, which can be really frustrating when you have a cold and want something to help you power through the day.

Anyway, that’s my ramble on medicine in Japan.