You need coolin’

Shot in a closet with white walls showing an oscillating fan. The fan is surrounded by a variety of vinyl bags, folded flat, stacked up around and hiding the fan's stand from view.

I was sweating quite a bit when I got home this evening, but I didn’t quite feel like a shower, and Nana wasn’t hot enough to turn on the air conditioner. So I knew that it was time to get the oscillating fan out of the closet.

Nana’s mother has been nicking paper towels and vinyl bags from her place of work for the past several years, and ignoring our protests that we don’t need anything more. I’d taken some time several months back to attempt to arrange all the ill-gotten goods in some sort of order. Unfortunately, this was in the same cabinet where we kept the fan.

So, stripped to the waist, sweating like some sort of locomotive stoker or demonic minion, I set about removing enough of the vinyl detritus to unearth the fan (NB: all of it) and then to put it all back in some semblance of order.

I’m happy to report that enough time has now passed that I’m enjoying the fan’s breeze and not contemplating just shutting all the windows and turning on the air conditioner.

But it’s a near thing …

Memory with teeth

I’ve dragged my heels on a couple of medical appointments this month, strictly out of embarrassment over my skills arranging an appointment on the telephone. First, I just plumb forgot the usual appointment with the sleep apnea doc, which is a straightforward five-minute thats-great-try-better-see-you-again-in-two-months sort of affair. I realized it less than a week after the fact, and then just kept putting off calling to reschedule. Finally the clinic called to reschedule my appointment, with a typical Japanese combination of apologizing while scolding to make sure I don’t miss the new appointment.

The second was for an inlay which loosened during lunch one day and then fell out during dinner. I managed to spit out the inlay and cleaned it up after dinner. I wrapped it in a tissue so I wouldn’t lose it, put it in my briefcase so I’d have it when I visited the dentist, and then …

As the days and then weeks wore on, it got tougher each time I tried to convince myself to pick up the phone, knowing that part of the interview would be, “How long ago did this happen?”

Biting the platinum bullet

I’d hobbled along with things as they were for more than two weeks, and probably closer to a month, doing my best not to get food stuck in the gap between my molars and whipping out the floss when it did (invariably some sort of meat or fish). I’m not sure what finally gave me the strength to actually pick up the phone and make the call, but as soon as I did it was a non-issue. When I said I’d had an inlay fall out, I was offered an early afternoon appointment the following day. I took it, and then hastily informed my boss I’d be having a half day off. (He’s happy to approve this, so long as there’s nothing crucial scheduled at the same time, as I have a history of not using my appointed holiday time.)

Scene from the Kubrick film A Clockwork Orange: close-up of a man's face, grimacing, with medical attachments to hold eyelids open

A young junior dentist invited me to sit in the chair and did the prep work, using some kind of disc on the drill to remove the old cement from the tooth where the inlay had previous sat, which process was not nearly as painful as some things I’ve suffered at the hands of women. When she was done, she called over the senior dentist, a fellow cyclist who has been taking care of my teeth for at least 24 years.

“It’s too old,” he told the junior dentist of the inlay I’d presented when I arrived. “It’s been a long time,” he said to me — a gentle reminder that I hadn’t scheduled my six-month cleaning after my last visit. He quickly reviewed my history. He’d originally done the inlay in Heisei 15 (2003), meaning it was nearly 20 years old. Checking more current events, the most recent X-ray was three years old. He injected my gum in several places with Novocaine, muttering to himself the while about the questionable state of my tooth, and then sent me off to the X-ray booth with the junior dentist.

After wrapping me in a lead apron and having me place my chin and forehead in the appropriate receptacles of the X-ray device, and then to bite the little thingamabob to hold my teeth in place, she told me to show my teeth. When I didn’t catch on right away she briefly lowered her mask and demonstrated. (She was a cutie — I’d be happy to show her my teeth anytime.)

And so she stepped out of the room and I tried to hold my mouth open in a grimace while biting a small plastic prop and not moving as the big machine whirred about my head. And my face wouldn’t cooperate. I watched in the mirror as my right cheek spasmed and my left cheek trembled. Was it an early indicator of some essential tremor to come with advancing age? I quickly checked if my teeth were vibrating between the muscular oscillations of my face — as far as I could see, they were still.

It was over in a few seconds. The regular dentist was satisfied with the result, so I must have held the important bits still enough. And then I was reclining head downwards once again as the drill was applied. There was little pain now as the injections had taken effect. The biggest challenge, as usual, was to keep breathing while my tongue was raised out of the way of the drill and yet blocking the water spray from running down my throat.

The dentist finished his cleaning up not a moment too soon and packed the resulting hole with a temporary goop. As soon as that was reasonably hardened and he was happy with the shape, he had me sit up again.

I won’t say anything if you won’t

While the dentist was giving me the usual injunction not to eat anything for half an hour, and to avoid chewing on the affected molar, I was wondering if I should show him the photo of me dining with my son the previous evening. He’d been taking care of José’s teeth from the time the lad was 5 or 6 until he left for university. But then I thought, No, if he knows José is in Tokyo now, he’ll ask why he doesn’t come in for a check-up.

Three people behind a table in a restaurant, arms about each other, smiling at camera. One person is holding a wine glass.
The gang’s all here

I’d no sooner had that thought than the dentist asked, “And how old is José now?”

I replied he was 30, and that made the dentist suck in his breath. I took out my phone and showed him the photo from Thanksgiving dinner the evening before. “He’s even got a beard!” He followed up with a question about where he was working, and was suitably impressed with the reply.

He didn’t ask what José was doing about dental care these days. Exceptional example of Japanese discretion. I’m glad, as the response (he hasn’t been to a dentist in ages) would have angered him.

New TV cabinet

TV cabinet with lighted curio shelves, TV

It’s taken me ages to persuade Nana to get a new TV, but the moment she’d done that she wanted a custom cabinet made to go with it. We went to the same designer who did the bookcase / folding bed unit and desk for my den. In addition to the new TV cabinet, we wanted to ask for ideas to earthquake-proof the bookcase, which I’m using mostly for CDs.

It didn’t take long for the designer to come up with a cabinet we liked, and he gave us a couple of ideas on the bookcase. We agreed to have a low wooden lip installed on each shelf. Then it was just a matter of agreeing on the price and having a worker visit to verify the measurements, and after that the wait for it all to be ready.

When we visited the showroom they were featuring a grey color scheme that Nana liked, but once we were back home and she saw how well the bookcase matches the flooring and wooden doors in our flat, she agreed it would be better to have the TV cabinet match as well.

It’s magic!

The designers had measured carefully to fit the cabinet between the blinds and the TV, with cutouts for the wall socket behind and the utility outlet up near the ceiling (intended for an A/C we will never have installed here). We were supposed to have the TV mounted midway between the right edge of the cabinet and the opposite wall, but I was at the office the day it was installed and it somehow ended up smack in the middle of both walls. But no mind — it fits.

TV cabinet glass-and-veneer door
Magic veneer door

The DVR and region-free DVD player are in the bottom of the cabinet. To allow the remote signal to reach these devices, the door is made of glass with a very thin veneer of wood — just 2-3mm. Nana has already tested it and indeed the devices respond to their remotes with the door shut.

Enough of your lip!

On to the bookcase! For some reason I’d imagined the cabinetmaker would use some kind of router to make grooves in the shelves for the lips, but in fact he just screwed them onto each shelf as it was (after carefully measuring, of course). I’m happy with the result, and Nana is breathing easier.

The final bit of work today (it was the first undertaken, actually, and the one that took the most time) was to level up the two halves of the bottom shelf. In the two years we’ve had the bookcase, one of the shelves has warped and sagged noticeably compared to the other. Now, after the cabinetmaker’s efforts I’m sitting at the desk and can hardly make out the seam. (Seen from above, as in this photo, there’s a darkened edge on one shelf which makes it look uneven, but when I run my finger across it I can hardly tell where the seam is.)


Empty wooden shelving unit

Nana finally got a new TV, and we ordered a cabinet to go with it. We’re getting the cabinet from the same designer who built the desk and bed / shelving wall unit in my den.

Ever since I stocked up the shelves with CDs, Nana has been worried about what could happen in an earthquake — particularly if someone was sleeping in the fold-out bed beneath the shelves. So we asked the designer for recommendations, and he suggested adding a low wooden lip to each shelf.

The cabinet will be delivered next weekend, and the workers will modify the shelves at the same time. So in preparation, I had to empty the shelves and clear out the space around the unit.

Stacks of books and CDs on wooden floor
No quakes, please!

All my books and CDs will be stacked up in the dining room for the next week. I sincerely hope we don’t have an earthquake during that time!

Takahata Fudoson Kongoji

Ajisai (Hydrangea)

Takahata Fudoson was built about 794 by Jigaku Daishi Ennin by the order of Emperor Seiwa as a sacred ground in the eastern mountains of the realm. Following the destruction of the temple by a storm in 1335, Gikai Shōnin I rebuilt the Fudō-dō Hall on the current site in 1342. This Important Cultural Property was followed by another, the Niōmon Gate.

Most of the original temple buildings were destroyed by fire in 1779. Reconstruction occurred slowly and continued until 1975. Okuden Hall, just behind Fudō-dō Hall, enshrines the repaired 1,100kg statue of Jōroku Fudōsanson.

In addition to the rich history and many important cultural artifacts, the temple grounds are open every year for the ajisai (hydrangea) festival.

The temple grounds also feature a pilgrimage route inspired by the Shikoku region’s pilgrimage to the 88 temples. The route features large number of hydrangea in June and cluster amaryllis in September, as well as momiji, famous for their fall colors.

Momiji (Japanese Maple)
Momiji (Japanese Maple)
Ajisai at Takahata Fudoson Kongoji

Fukuchiin — stay in a Buddhist temple

Decorative dragon panel


Koyasan in Wakayama Prefecture, home to Shingon Buddhism, boasts more than 50 temples offering shukubo, an overnight stay featuring onsen baths and a traditional vegetarian meal. Fukuchiin, one such temple, lies just a few steps from some of Koyasan’s more famous temple complexes and just a 15-minute walk from Garan, the central temple complex.

Amenities include wifi, onsen baths and private dining rooms, and alcohol is available upon request. The temple includes many artistic treasures. An overnight stay includes an invitation to join the 6 a.m. prayer service.

Entrance to Fukuchiin

Rock garden
Rock garden

Shojin ryori
Shojin ryori


Receiving the benefit of the doubt

Just back from the doc, getting a refill, where the following conversation happened:

You’ve lost a kilogram! That’s good!
Guy Jean
I’ll bet you’re not going out drinking as much these days because of the Coronavirus, right?
Er … right.
A lot of people are drinking out less, and losing weight as a result.
Interesting theory …

Well, we’ve cut down going out a little bit. But it’s not as if we’re not making up for it at home …


[The following conversation happened entirely in Japanese.]

(Grouses at TV)
Guy Jean:
(Grouses something else at TV)
Guy Jean:
You keep saying “Right? Right?” But you don’t understand a thing I’m saying, right?
Guy Jean:

Rat? Or a middle-aged man?

My colleague gave me this hand-written card along with some sweets for the new year. I tossed the card on my desk and there it remained for a couple of days, turned sideways.

I glanced at it one day and made a startling discovery:

Hand-drawn illustrration of Year of the Rat greeting
Mouse, or ojisan?

This was definitely unintentional, as when I pointed it out to her it took her more than a minute to realize what I was talking about. And then she said, “A western ojisan, possibly! Not a Japanese one.”