Well, a summer thunderstorm swept in and cut short Lyani's and my photographic excursion. I guess I should not have mentioned in my blog how the rainy season is "over". Nor should Lyani have taken her umbrella out of her purse. Nor should we have had the audacity to want to take some pictures under a blue sky. Consider us punished, Oh Great Weather! Anyway, we got a few pictures, so we should be able to post a pictorial sometime soon--though we might wait until we are able to get a few more pictures. We'll see what the weather has in store tomorrow.
Anyway, the main thrust of this entry is to describe my first encounter with Japanese dentistry. Don't worry, I emerged unscathed. Sometime last week, Lyani and I realised two things: 1) I pay a reasonably large amount every month for health insurance (which includes dental coverage), and 2) I have not been to the dentist since just before we moved to Japan, last September. (Speaking of which, if you find yourself in Columbus, Ohio, I highly recommend Dr. Barbara Hanson; and I hear that Sarah Zarick kid is supposed to be pretty good, too!)
Moving to remedy this situation, Lyani did a little bit of Googling, and came up with an English-speaking dentist in Ginza, one Dr. Hitomi Hayashi. Lyani made me an appointment for 17:00 this evening (Saturday, 15 July, 2006). I left the house at 16:00, walked down to Maihama Station (luckily, the rain had subsided, and even more fortunately, it had taken the edge off the heat--which reached 32° today, and felt like 40° once the humidity was factored in), rode the Keiyo Line to Shin-Kiba, then switched to the Yurakucho Line and got off at Ginza 1-chome (-chome is a standard counter in Japanese for city blocks). The dental clinic was right across the street from a branch of my bank, the ubiquitous Tokyo-Mitsubushi Bank (well, technically, it is now the Mitsubishi Tokyo UFJ Bank, but I am still irritated with the name change following the acquisition of UFJ Bank, so I am sticking to the old name). I crossed the street--which was made easier by the fact that the street had been closed off to traffic, which I am assuming happens every weekend afternoon in the busy shopping district of Ginza--walked into the building, caught the elevator up to the forth floor and walked into the dental clinic, and immediately thought I was in the wrong place. The clinic looked more like a beauty salon than a dentist's office, with young, stylish ladies sitting at a counter in the waiting area, examining literature and touching up their make-up (which is something that Japanese girls will do anywhere, including the train, sitting at a table in a coffee shop, etc.), and a receptionist in a pink uniform behind the counter. Luckily, I noticed right away that the literature the stylish ladies were reading all had to do with the bleaching, straightening, or other manipulation of teeth. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised, since Ginza is one of the trendiest neighbourhoods in Tokyo (the other place that leaps to mind when I think of the word "trendy" is Omote-sando); why shouldn't dental clinics located there be très chic?
I walked up to the counter, introduced myself, and mentioned that I had an appointment for 17:00. Being a first-time patient, I had to fill out a brief questionaire and supply my contact and insurance information. Luckily, they gave me the English-language version of the questionaire--I can muddle through that sort of thing in Japanese, but it takes lots of second-guessing and doubting myself. The questionaire was actually a lot less involved than the new-patient paperwork at US dentists would be. I finished the questionaire, and had to wait for about ten more minutes until they were ready for me, but that was no problem, since I had brought along my well-worn copy of "Effective C++" (wow, thanks to Amazon, I just realised that there is a 3rd edition of this venerable book--I guess it is time to upgrade--good thing there is a TLUG meeting next week-end, where I can auction off my copy of the 2nd edition). The only downside of the wait was that the trendy leather chairs in the waiting room were not very comfortable.
Right, so after ten minutes, a dental tech popped her head into the waiting room and called my name, in surprisingly good English. I was not terribly surprised that she spoke English--after all, I specifically chose this dentist since she advertised that she was English-speaking--but I expected that her assistants would speak so-called "katakana English", which is English, but pronounced according to the rules of the Japanese sound system. I am sure you have all heard katakana English on Saturday Night Live: "you rai-ku mo-ah sushi, Mistah Sumisu?" (say it out loud and you should get the picture).
I went into the examination room, and had a seat in the chair. The chair itself was a bit different from the American ones; American dental chairs tend to be all-in-one affairs, with the sink basin, the examination light, etc. all attached to the chair. In this case, the chair was free-standing, with the sink basin attached to a table on one side, and the light and other stuff on the other side. The dental assistant used a control on the table to the right (where the sink was) to recline the chair so she could have a look at my choppers. The reclining process itself was pretty cool: the chair went up about 30 cm first, then smoothly reclined while a leg support came up from the bottom. Kind of like a Barcalounger on the Starship Enterprise. And while this was going on, the sink swung up from the table and positioned itself conveniently.
After an initial look at all of the surfaces of my various molars, premolars, canines, and incisors (heh heh, thanks, Wikipedia!), I went into another room for the dreaded panoramic x-ray. The x-ray was pretty much just like the ones I remember from American dentists' offices, but instead of the bite wings that they put in your mouth to keep your teeth apart for the x-ray, the tech just stuck a toothpick sideways between my front teeth. Whatever works, I suppose. From there, it was back into the exam room for cleaning, polishing, and flossing.
The cleaning was done completely using an electric tool, in contrast to the manual scrapers that I was used to Stateside. The cleaning tool spewed water to keep the teeth from getting too hot, so the tech had to use the suction hose in tandem. The cleaning tool emitted a high-pitched whine not unlike the cry of the dreaded drill. Luckily for me, I did not have to be introduced to the Japanese version of the drill, as my x-rays came back clean.
The polishing process was the same as the American version, except the dentist did not have the sweet bubble gum flavoured paste that I fondly recall from my childhood. They offered raspberry mint, green mint, and wintergreen, in order of increasing "cool feeling" (direct translation from クール感).
Flossing was a little different. They used a really thick gauge floss, which they worked between the teeth, then pulled out from one end, instead of popping it back up between the teeth (hopefully you can imagine what I mean, as I cannot think of a better way of describing it without resorting to ASCII art).
So, that was my visit to the dentist. The best difference from America of all? With my insurance, the checkup only set me back ¥4000--about $35 US!