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.”


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