Swimming with sharks, and ringing stomachs


Today, I had another private lesson with Doctor-san, who is elderly, active, and interested in random, occasionally dangerous activities (but we’ll get to that later). Given that he has such a varied set of interests, I asked what he thought of the upcoming vote regarding Scottish independence. His response: “I’m not interested in the vote of independence of Scotland.” Well then. Nevermind.

He wore a plastic green cartoon watch, and placed a copy of his will on the table. “When I die,” he said, “take my… should I say… eyeball?”
“Take my eyeballs immediately and send to eye-bank.”
“…You have an eye-bank?! Here, in Japan?”
“…Of course.” Right. An eye-bank. Of course.

Iwate University was the first to succeed at eye transplantation, which is now considered a very simple, easy procedure. Kidneys are considered the most difficult to transplant from a recently deceased donor because you need to inject heparin, an anti-coagulant, before death.

Doctor-san then informed me that a “middle-aged, beautiful woman” is in charge of deciding where donated organs go.

“I am an old man, so I will die soon. Where should I die? Because I need the herapin. So I ask the woman. She say, ‘Please die at Iwate Medical University.'” I like this woman.

Doctor-san is certainly not without his ego: “Patient who transplant my brain will have… noble mind.”

If there’s one thing Doctor-san and I agree upon, it’s the uselessness of religion. “Most of the dead man will have name after death. It is called kaimyo. The master of the Buddhist temple give a name after death. There are good name after death and bad name after death. It depend on the price!” [smile] He says you could pay up to 100,000,000 yen for a good name ($100,000)!

“People come together after death and talk about the dead, it is called hoji” (eulogy, perhaps). Doctor-san has selected his brother, sister, kids, and a couple of friends to give his hoji. “That’s all.” Sounds like a lot of people to me, haha.

Regarding final words, he has chosen a few, including a¬†few haiku, depending upon the season in which he dies. For an Autumn death: a haiku that says something like, “My bad luck has run out.”

Doctor-san was once shot by an American aircraft machine gun after WWII, and was curious about the diameter (20.7mm, or about 0.5in). The distinction between metric and non-metric measuring systems is how he knew it was an American plane.

Doctor-san swims in Miyako Bay, where sharks are frequently seen. A fisherman once caught a 7-meter shark, by chance. He still swims there, but admits it might not help him reach his ultimate goal of becoming an organ donor: “If you are bite… bitten by shark, the body becomes useless. So, I must die on tatami.”

In a class where we typically chat in a relaxed environment, the topic of the sound that stomachs make when people are hungry came up. In Japanese, it’s likened to a bell rather than an angry animal in English (growl).

Onakaganaru is the name of the sound:
onaka- stomach
ga- is
naru- sound/ring (bell)

One of the students giggled and pointed out the underlying truth about our cultures: “English is… strong sound. Japanese is small, pretty word.”


Random encounters, and full regalia


I met Ryann at my place this morning so we could check out Hachimangu shrine and see the horseback archery (which is tomorrow while we’re working, dammit!). I pointed out the huge bell that I had attempted unsuccessfully to ring weeks ago during my first visit to the shrine, and told her I wanted to give it another shot. She filmed me, fully expecting another spectacular failure, and instead it produced a huge sound that even the noise of the festival couldn’t cover up. So that same bell got to embarrass me twice.

We wandered down the road, bought bras, and were headed to Odori when suddenly, on the bridge over the Nakatsu, we ran into one of the men who befriended me yesterday. We shook hands and smiled, and he beckoned us to come with him, stating beer as the main activity of choice. We drank and ate grilled squid (popoyaki) which is my new favorite thing. So good! Ryann and I then separated and decided to regroup at 6pm to see the parade’s main procession just west of the Nakatsu River.

On my way home I was snapping photos of the local fire station (their logo is an interlocking circle and square, which looks really odd and not at all Japanese, in my mind). All the fire stations nearby have little towers, which harkens back to being able to see where the fire was. As I was taking photos, a man came out and indicated me to follow him toward the station. He recognized me, and after a few moments, I recognized him, too: it was the father who took a photo with his son and that monk at Daijiji Temple (and then insisted that I, too, take a photo with the monk) ages ago! He brought his daughter out, who was totally decked out in one of the flashiest outfits I’ve ever seen: she was one of the priestesses (?) at the front of the procession for the parade! She mugged for me as I took a few photos. What a cutie, and her father was so kind to recognize me and call me over.

People are different during a festival, everyone is friendlier, more outgoing. During the day everyone is so reserved, then they drink after work and get loud and full of laughter, then a festival happens, and everyone seems happy and weightless, and ready to make a new friend at the drop of a hat. I’ve encountered such kindness during the festival.