Japanese Patient Cards

Lazy blogger is lazy. Actually, it’s only partially laziness. The rest of it is political canvassing, which is kind of exhausting. Anyway! I dug around in the archives for posting material and settled on something random: my Japanese patient cards!

Patient Cards

Patient cards from two different places. I blurred out my year of birth.

Since I no longer live in Matsuyama, I don’t really care about showing these. The one on top is for Ehime Prefecture Central Hospital. Ken-byouin (as it’s called locally) is where I had surgery on my hand and where I subsequently had about 20 after care visits. Despite no one speaking English, Ken-byouin and I became good friends. The one on the bottom is for the clinic I visited monthly to pick up a medication I’ve taken for many years. Japan doesn’t really do prescriptions that can be filled multiple times.

The patient card system is interesting simply the US does things differently. In Japan, when you go to a new clinic or hospital, you fill out a bunch of paperwork and are issued a card. On subsequent visits, you give the receptionist your patient and insurance cards and that takes care of the check-in. In my experience, at major hospitals like Ken-byouin you put the patient card in a machine and the machine prints out instructions. Then you give your insurance card to the nurse assigned to your specific physician.

I actually like the patient card thing. I think it makes it easier for them to find your information and get things to the doctor, since medical records are all digital. I kind of miss the efficiency of just handing over a couple of cards and then taking a seat.


Foreign Currency

Foreign Currency

My assorted foreign currency. Japan, the UK, Canada, the EU, and… Serbia, I think? I don’t know, someone gave that one to me.

I love foreign currency. Whenever I leave the US, I like to bring back a little bit of money just to have it. I have random collections, okay? There’s actually a decent amount of money in that pile, but I don’t intend to ever have it exchanged to US dollars.

Of course, my biggest collection is yen! When I left Japan the last time, my employers paid out the tiny remainder of my salary in cash and I had a little bit of money in my purse, so I ended up bringing about $350 in yen back to Seattle. The salary I exchanged, of course, but I decided to keep the purse contents. And it seems like something nice to talk about, in case some readers are unfamiliar!


My remaining yen!

From the top down (right to left): ¥1,000 note, ¥500 coin, ¥100 coin, ¥50 coin, ¥10 coin, ¥5 coin, and ¥1 coin. At the current exchange rate, ¥1,000 is about $12 and a ¥1 coin is as useless as ever.

So that’s my little currency collection! Nothing overly exciting, but it still makes me happy.

A Monk in Nara

Well, it’s been a few days since my last post. Sorry about that! My job, which involves about four solid hours of walking a day, really tired me out my first week. But I’m a little more used to it now, so the blogging can recommence! And what better way than with a Japan photo?

A Monk in Nara

A monk begging in Nara, near Todai-ji.

Buddhism (仏教/Bukkyou) is one of Japan’s two primary religions (the other is Shinto). It was introduced from China in the sixth century and, though it’s been in decline since the end of WWII, roughly 70% of the population still identifies as Buddhist. I could devote a very long post just to discussing Japanese Buddhism, but I’m not going to because I doubt most people would be very interested in the details. The short version is that there are still multiple schools – including Amidist, Shingon, and Zen – and Buddhism and Shinto in Japan are syncretic, meaning that they overlap and are not mutually exclusive.

But the real point here is to explain the picture! It’s very common in Japan to see a Buddhist monk begging. They stand or sit with a begging bowl in public places, chanting mantras. It’s a safe guess that the above monk is a practitioner of Shingon Buddhism because that’s the school Todai-ji is associated with. It’s interesting from a western perspective because we associate begging with people who are out of work, or attempting to scam you, whereas in Japan it’s typically a religious practice.

I’ve always liked seeing monks because, after a while, places normalize and you stop looking at them actively. But whenever I came across a sight like this, it was like a reminder that, oh yeah, I’m still in Japan. Always very cool.

Let’s Talk Hanko

Hanko Case

My hanko case. It cost all of ¥100 (about $1.25).

I enjoy posts like this sometimes because, while photos are fun, it’s nice to occasionally put my Japan experience to some use. So let’s talk hanko!

Hanko (判子), more comprehensively called inkan (印鑑), are seal stamps. As far as I know, they’re common throughout East Asia, or at least used to be, and originated in China, but I only really know about the Japanese version. There are four kinds of personal hanko, with varying degrees of formality, but they all serve the same basic function as a signature in the west.

My hanko is a mitome-in (認印). It’s mid-range on the formality scale and used for things like receiving postal deliveries, paying bills, and signing in at work. As a foreign English teacher, I never needed a jitsu-in (実印), which is the kind that people register for legally binding documents, so I only have the one. It’s made of wood and was special ordered. As with all mitome-in, it only has my family name, somewhat crowded because it’s printed in romaji.


My hanko inside its case, with a little supply of ink. The ink is always red.

Mostly, I used my hanko to stamp the attendance book at my schools when I got to work, which is a pretty common practice in Japan. As I said, mine was a special order (it cost ¥1,000/about $12), but generic mitome-in for names like Sato and Tanaka can actually be found at ¥100 stores. That’s also where you can find a good selection of hanko cases.

If I move back to Japan, I will have a new hanko made. This is because the one I have was ordered for me before I even got there. My Board of Education had a tendency to treat us like children who couldn’t be trusted and that left a bitter aftertaste. So, as some Japanese people get a new hanko after a major life change, I will get a new one if I go back. It seems like a really nice symbol of a fresh start. It’s an idea that I, at least, have always found really appealing.


On Friday, I talked about Matsuyama’s summer night market and, in the process, mentioned yukata. Now, I know I’ve brought up yukata in passing on a few other occasions, but I’ve never devoted an entire post to them. Until today!

Yukata With Friends

Wearing yukata at the night market, with my friends Lauren and Nicky.

Yukata (浴衣) are light, casual summer kimono. Traditionally they’re made of cotton, but inexpensive ones (both of mine) are either polyester or a poly-cotton blend. They’re unlined and, like formal kimono, have straight seams and wide sleeves. When laid out, they’re quite large, and the sleeves of a woman’s yukata have long extensions from the elbow. The general shape of a man’s yukata is the same, but without that part.

Yukata Party

Me and fellow Ehime ALTs, at the goodbye party last summer.

Yukata means “bath clothes” and originally they were a sort of bathrobe. Now they’re still worn at onsen and bathhouses, tied with a simple belt, but are also seen at summer festivals. Floral and geometric prints are the most common, though older women and most men tend to stick to darker and simpler patterns, while bright colors like red and pink are popular among young women. The desired shape is a tube, so sometimes non-Asian women have trouble getting them to lay flat enough at the front, but with some patience they can be tucked and folded into the right silhouette.


A professionally-tied obi.

As with kimono, yukata are secured with an obi: a long, wide sash tied at the back. Some people buy clip-on bows, but many people learn to tie them on their own, or you can pay a small fee to be dressed at a kimono shop by professionals. That’s what my friends and I did and the results were really beautiful. Typically, the obi is tied with cords (obi-jime) over a thin piece of cardboard (obi-ita) that helps keep the shape and prevent it from wrinkling.

Yukata at night market

Me and my friend Nicky at the Night Market.

As with many traditional things, yukata went out of style in the mid-20th century during Japan’s post-war race to fit in with the west. However, since the ’90s they’ve enjoyed a major revival. You can get a yukata with an obi, obi-ite and obi-jime starting around ¥7,000 (~$85), though they can also be quite expensive, or cheaper if you shop the off-season sales.

Yukata are a wonderful piece of Japanese culture that I’m always happy to see when I’m over there. If you ever have the opportunity and appropriate occasion to wear one, it’s a really fun experience.

UFO Catchers

UFO Catcher

My sister winning us UFO Catcher cat things.

I know I said it would be a blogless weekend, but my friend has to work today, so I’m just hanging out at her place for a couple of hours until we meet for lunch. And this is a good way to pass the time, so let’s talk UFO catchers!

UFO catcher is the Japanese term for a claw game. Unlike in the US, though, they’re super popular and there are some arcades specifically devoted to them. Also unlike in the US, the arcades actually want you to be able to win, sometimes even going so far as to rearrange the prizes for you. There’s also a wide variety of prizes, ranging from plushies to cup noodle to creepy erotic anime figurines. My sister got a bit obsessed when she was in Japan and won me three plushies in a week. It was fantastic.

UFO catchers are a lot of fun, but be warned: they are addictive.

Cost: ¥400

An Ode to Karaoke

Karaoke in yukata last summer.

Okay, not really an ode, but I wanted a catchier title than just “karaoke”.

Karaoke (カラオケ), a portmanteau meaning “empty orchestra”, is kind of a Japanese national pastime. Unlike the karaoke bars of the west, Japan has karaoke boxes: establishments with small, private rooms, each containing karaoke equipment, tables, and couches. You and the people you’re with rent a single room for a set period of time, usually between one and three hours, with the option to extend later.

Standard karaoke equipment includes a TV, two microphones, a small remote for selecting songs by their assigned number, and a touch-screen remote for searching by title and artist. When you check in at the front desk, you’ll be given books listing the available songs (if you’re not, ask for them). They’re always slightly out of date, but all the standards will be there.

Karaoke with friends in Kawagoe.

Every karaoke place has a drink bar in the lobby, where you will find water, sodas, tea, coffee, hot chocolate, slushy drinks, ice cream, and soup. Free use of the drink bar comes standard. If you want alcohol, you have two options: a more expensive set that includes nomihodai (飲み放題/all you can drink), or buying individual drinks off the menu. My friends and I usually just go cheap and skip the drinking.

My friend Lauren searching for a song.

Once you’re settled in with your drink of choice (I like melon slushy, myself), it’s time to get started. Everyone who does karaoke with any frequency has songs they always do, so the initial queue builds up pretty fast. Each song comes with a video, almost invariably unrelated, with the lyrics superimposed on it. The quality of the videos varies by chain, but some of them are hilariously awkward.

We dubbed him ’80s Man.

And that’s the gist of it! I’ll close this up with a few relevant notes:

First: You’re charged by number of people, but it’s always one bill. So if one person wants nomihodai, everyone has to get nomihodai.

Second: Sometimes more expensive karaoke places put people on the street to draw in business and, if you speak Japanese, it’s possible to haggle a bit. The best method is to know of another karaoke place in the area with a better price. This only works with the guys on the street, never at the desk inside.

Third: If someone in your party has a student ID, there might be a student discount. It never hurts to ask. Also, there might be a point card available and those are ace.

My friend Nicky on yukata karaoke night.

So, if you’re in Japan, definitely do some karaoke! It’s fun, it’s easy, and you are guaranteed to pass a room wherein plastered Japanese people are happily mutilating some English at the top of their lungs. How can you go wrong?