Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Day 2 is revealing

Day 2 of any serious physical exertion always seems to me the most painful. I awoke today, day 2 of my post Fuji-san hike, with extremely tight legs. It was difficult to get down the stairs. I wondered about my fellow hikers and hoped they were fairing better than I. After breakfast I took ibuprofen (Motrin) for the muscle pain with a prayer for quick relief. Within 45 minutes I felt an easing off of the pain. I was grateful. This again made me wonder about my fellow hikers. My Japanese friends had told me on the train ride home that they do not know about ibuprofen. They only use a muscle cream, rest, and natural things. I was perplexed. I mean I have taken ibuprofen off and on for many years for muscle pain- it works. As a nurse working with trauma and surgical patients, it was a regular medication dispensed- it works. One of my fellow hikers is also a Japanese nurse. I was amazed that she did not know of this, to me, basic medication. We had a long discussion of the Japanese way.

It seems to me the Japanese go to the doctor's office for every sniffle. They do really. My understanding is that Japanese doctors give out powders for patients to drink, but they do not take pills and they do not buy things over the counter like we do in America. The Japanese are very resistant to taking any kind of pill. Part of me was thinking it must be great to be a nurse in Japan because in America most of my work in the hospital was preparing and dispensing medications- pills & IVs (intravenous fluids). Another part of me was wondering what the pharmaceutical companies think of the Japanese market- all these people not taking pills! Well, I think Americans are pill happy, but at the same time some of the pills really help- like Motrin after a hike up Mt. Fuji. The resistance to something that can help you being dismissed because of it being packaged in a pill! I really couldn't get my head around the idea.

Then this morning I had cooking class. I was sort of groaning to myself as I was not feeling like getting out of the house. But the Motrin was working and thus my legs. I have been going to this cooking class once a month since I settled into Kamakura over three years ago. Before I left this morning I had a call from my husband. I forget why he called, but he is a doctor and works with children and thus their parents. He has to discuss diets and what the children eat with the parents. So the mention of me going off to cooking class provoked his comments about American parent's ideas of "healthy snacks." He tells me this often as he is horrified by what American parents think of as healthy snacks- prepackaged snack bars, prepackaged fruit in syrup, fruit rollups, packages of crackers, lunch meat, and cheese- all extremely processed foods. I commented back about how real food takes a lot of time (I know because I was standing in the kitchen preparing real food). He said his fear was that there would be a generation of American kids who didn't even know what a real orange looked like as they would only have seen them in plastic snack cups, like meat in a package being disconnected from the cow, that is how fruit is becoming in American supermarkets. I nodded and umhhd thinking to myself about how parents are pressed for time. If I was working at a job, I'd being doing way more of that too. Also if I hadn't come to Japan and learned a few new ways with food, I would also fall victim to more of that kind of food- it's easy, quick, & cheap. However, obento rules, read lunch box rules, in Japanese schools do not allow any kind of packaged food. You would likely be called into the office as the mother for serving that stuff. I get off the phone and head to my cooking class with those processed snack thoughts hanging in the air.

Cooking class is all in Japanese so someone has to translate the recipes for me, then I watch everything and sort of get the idea so that I can retranslate the recipes later. I also take lots of photos so I can put the recipes and photos together for a cookbook I am working on for my sensei. Today two of my hiking companions were also at the cooking class which meant that I had additional translators around. My sensei starts talking away and my friend translates. The translation is about how this food is good for this and that and about how food is so important to a good life. Now some of this I have heard before. I sort of roll my eyes and do the yeah, yeah thing. However, today on the back of the no pills conversation with the Japanese nurse and the contrast to my husband's frustration over American mother's ideas of nutrition, I realized for the first time that food for the Japanese is really serious and it is about health. Food is there pills. It sort of makes me crazy how they tell me this food is good for this and that as I am wondering what in the world is it based on- did someone do a scientific study or is it just folklore? Truth is I think it is mostly folklore and if it works for you great! I just like good fresh food so I go with the comments, but today I realized how essential the diet is to the Japanese wellbeing. They take food way more seriously than we Americans do. It is about health here. Making a Japanese lunch box for your kid is serious work. Food culture starts from the beginning. Japanese women are forced out of the work place generally by the demands of long working hours once they have kids so part of me assumed that the food obsessions was based on having the time to obsess. I guess 1000 years of food culture also gives you the foundation for good food and a few tales about what is good for each part of you.

Today I saw that food is health and a form of medicine in Japan. In contrast to the American ways and acceptance of pills and processed foods! I have to say I think in the end the Japanese will be healthier even if their legs hurt! Their obstinate view toward pills seems backward to me, but their food obsessions seems to be their saving grace. Clearly they have more folks making it to the 100s than our western diet is providing despite all of our pills. I learn something new here all the time even if it takes me three plus years to get it!