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Thursday, January 20, 2005

Little white hats

So the other day we had to go to the doctors to get some prescriptions refilled. Frankly it was something that I had been avoiding. You see...

Japan is a culture of formalized ritual in almost every aspect of daily life. Every exchange with a store clerk (for example) is an exercise in negotiating through a series of culturally pre-scripted phrases, questions and answers. This formalizing impulse is evident even in the way your change is counted out and handed back to you. As a result, in the best light, it lends even the most mundane exchange here a sense of grace and fluid motion. Every action can seem thoroughly thought out and considered. However, from a not so flattering viewpoint, it can make everything and everyone seem quite robotic. Robotic, not in any sense of efficient behavior, but in a rigid adherence to process. A process that can sometimes add what seems to be a superfluous layer of interaction. So I figured with a doctor, probably only more so.

Man, was I wrong. First off, healthcare here is nationalized, all you need is proof of residency and your in. You can pick any doctor you want, walk in without an appointment, fill out some minimal paperwork and, if it's not too busy, sail on in to see the doc. No ridiculous, pointless procedure of sending you first to an examination room, leaving you to leaf through a 6 month old copy of "Redbook", where you wait to be graced by the appearance of El Doctore. I always hated that process, I liken it to being "softened" up prior to an interrogation.

But what I most found refreshing was the no nonsense, straight forward attitude of the staff. Not cold or unfriendly, but surprisingly free of the hidebound behavior you can sometimes encounter when you're just trying to pay for your KFC 3 piece set, dammit. When the time came to write out the prescription, the doctor, in trying to find the best price and availability of the medicine, had the staff calling local pharmacies to find the best deal. There was a relaxed, yet efficient atmosphere to the place that made me feel at ease.

I also liked the fact that the nurses wore little old-timey white caps. I wasn't sure if they were gonna administer a blood test or spank me.