I got acupuncture yesterday for the third time in Japan. Here’s how that started: Around the time I got to Japan I started feeling pain on my right side around the area of my hip. It felt like sciatica, which I have had on my left side. The stretching, heating, and resting that helped my left side was not helping my right side, and it was getting worse, to the point that I was limping and moaning in pain every time I changed position. The pain was really draining me. I couldn’t pick Knox up and I spent several different weekend days sleeping most of the day away. The pain exhausted me and continued to worsen so that it felt like I pulled every muscle from my spine, across my butt and hip, and down my thigh. I could even feel the nerve pinched in my ankle.
My discomfort was obvious, and the teacher who sits next to me asked me about it. That’s when she told me that her father is an acupuncturist and that I should go to see him. She speaks limited English and, it seems to me, that she wants to talk to me but doesn’t have a lot of interest in speaking English, so she wanted me to have an interpreter. We set up an appointment and I went to see Yamaguchi Sensei (Doctors are also called “sensei”) with a posse. Those attending included myself, Yamaguchi Sensei (daughter of acupuncturist and desk neighbor teacher to me), and Miyazaki Sensei, who I teach English classes with and who was recruited to be my interpreter.
The driving time between my apartment and my school is only about ten minutes, and the place where the Yamaguchi family lives and has the acupuncture office is in between the two. Carrot Coffee is across the street from the office. We went to Carrot Coffee first to while away the interim time between school and my appointment. They had caramel parfaits and I had an iced caramel latte. We talked and I heard a bunch of dirt about the school and my predecessor, which I wish I hadn’t heard, but I can tell you about that later. Everything is about six bucks at this café, from the plain drinks to the fancy parfaits, so you’re kinda screwed if all you want is a coffee. The building and the furnishings are gorgeous, collections of magazines are in perfect lines along the walls, and little cars inconspicuously sit in modern white and glass table cases. The lighting isn't bad, either. I have been there three times and the party I’m with is always the only patronage. I don’t know how they stay open. Probably thanks to the suggestive little symbol they have.
We walked over to the office from there. We changed into the indoor slippers, I changed into Miss Yamaguchi Sensei’s pajamas, and I laid myself out on the table. I was pretty nervous before the first session because I hadn’t thought to ask about the needles. In the states they have to use disposables, but Japan is not the the states. It turns out that they do have to use dispo, as they call it, but he doesn’t use them for family, and during my second session I know there was a metal needle in my wrist. Oh, well. Miyazaki Sensei worked fast and furious on the electronic translator. Yamaguchi is not only an acupuncturist, he must also be a psychic. He feels your pulse at first and at intervals during the session. Just from feeling my pulse he knew that I had gall bladder issues and that my perseverance was very low. Yesterday, when he felt my pulse, he knew that I have been having trouble with will power (which I know is true because I have been gaining weight), and that I have been wearing cheap shoes. I am seeing this crazy psychic Japanese acupuncturist, which is awesome, although it’s a good thing because I am in bad shape.
Back to the pain... I had also been going to a chiropractic massage place and had gotten a Thai massage to stretch and relax. Both places were great, but the acupuncture is the only thing that helped the pain. The first time I went to acupuncture, the pain got better, but it was still unbearable. The second time, about a week later, improved the situation enough that it took me about a month to go back for the third session, yesterday. I had still been able to feel the pain, but not enough to be a big issue. Now it’s gone, but I feel repercussions of barely moving my leg for two and a half months, mainly loss of flexibility and stiffness.
As for the acupuncture itself, his technique is definitely different than that in the states. For the most part, he pokes me but doesn’t leave the needle in, and it’s kinda dramatic. He does it really fast, and it’s accompanied by a grunt and a move, as though he’s coming out of a ju jitsu move or something, and he does a quick little rub down of the spot. There is a nice warmer on my feet during the whole process. When I flip over onto my stomach he does more poking, but leaves some of the needles in. This is the point at which I get set on fire. That’s right. Fire. He puts these little spongy herbal balls on the tips of the needles and lights them. They are fragrant, very hot and smoky, and he puts cardboard boxes over them to keep the heat and smoke next to me. The first time I walked into the office and smelled it, I was a little incensed because I thought it was cigarette smoke, but I realized later that the smoke was part of it. I’ll add pics of this next time I go. Then he cleans me up, cracks my neck and my back, blow dries me, and I’m done. Yeah, he pulls out a blow dryer and winds me down. I don’t know why, maybe to make me warm. It’s really nice to be blow dried. So, I know this all sounds like a lot of hocus pocus, but doing this has reduced my pain dramatically. I've tried so many other things with no result, but the first time I got off the acupuncture table, I felt remarkably better.
So, I am a bit of a mess right now. My back and neck are always uncomfortable, Knox wakes me up at all hours of the night almost every night, the days are so short I feel like I don’t have time for anything… I am still finding ways to exercise here, but haven’t done a very good job of it, and I’m miserable without exercise… the sleep loss and the lack of exercise are really taking a toll on me. Oy.