Monday, March 30, 2015


Four days after discovering I was going to lose my left nut, the new teachers moved in. The Let’s English teacher life is a strange one, for each teacher must introduce their replacement to the way of life they’re about to say goodbye to. 

The first night was complete with awkward conversation, carefully sipped beers, and commiserating about our boss (not Iwayama-san,never Iwayama-san). But as the days went on, we started to grow a bit closer.

They say food is a way to man’ stomach, and if it’s true then Brian and I are friends indeed. My obsession with peanut butter had been unrivaled on any of the islands of Japan. Yet Brian has forced me to pass that crown. When they moved in we had a half of a jar of peanut butter (Brain continues to insist it was less) as well as another giant unopened container, like big enough I could lift weights with it. It’s hardly been two weeks, and somehow the second jar is almost empty. Brian eats it with everything he can think of: bread, ice cream, pancakes. Raquel has been mercilessly insulting his love of peanut butter and insistence on having ketchup with his eggs, to which Brian simply smiles, shakes his head and says, “Ra-ke-ru!”

I thought Sarah was better suited to the quiet mountain life. When I met her I thought she seemed quiet and polite, but as time has passed she’s relaxed enough to revealed her true nature. Sarah makes noises, and they’re impossible to describe in words. Suffice to say that before we went to bed last night Sarah gave an impassioned speech about the benefits of waking up and growling like a dinosaur, and called on us to try this morning ritual because “it makes getting up more fun.”

The four of us spent yesterday cruising Takayama, and I think our relationship took a turn for the serious. We started the day at my favorite hangover spot, Arai Udon. That Brian tried to argue for another restaurant and I flatly refused his request speaks to how comfortable we’re getting with eachother (at least Raquel and I are comfortable busting Brian’s chops). We went to a thrift shop after that, where Brian and I wandered aimlessly, Raquel got her shop on and Sarah danced ceaselessly. After that we explored the Big Valor.
Japanglish at best this is.
The Big Valor is the closest thing Takayama has to a shopping mall, in that it’s a couple of clothes shops nestled atop a grocery store. On the weekends families dress up in obsolete Tokyo fashion and strut while grandparents eat red bean paste and watch nature documentaries in the food court. Raquel and I bought juices boxes and found a bench to enjoy the show. While waiting for our roomies to find us we caught Sarah whipping her head back and forth, looking for Raquel and asking, “Mom?"
Yeah, it’s getting weird.
Juiceboxes drained and the whole day ahead of us we set out to peruse this pinnacle of culture. Brian and Sarah laughed at Japanglish T-shirts, Raquel bought coloring books, and I got mauled by a 5-year-old whose mother didn’t realize that the towering bearded white person whose crotch her son was nuzzling was actually his former English teacher.
Onwards we went, in pursuit of ever greater thrills. The next stop in what hopefully will mark the true beginning of a long-lasting and bizarre relationship was the Sega World. Sega World is like an arcade, except instead of games it has a fleet of claw machines and on the first floor, and coin games and chain-smokers above them. We dove in with reckless abandon. Raquel and I tried our hand at winning a stuffed animal while Sarah tried to make change and ended up with 300 useless metal slugs instead. We took our devastated roommates upstairs, plopped them down next to one of the many chain-smokers, and introduced them to the enigma that is Japanese coin machines. 

Raquel said the make-up choices were limited,
but I don’t know, what do you think?

A man can never win at a Japanese coin machine. They’ve made it illegal to cash in the coins for prizes, so literally all you can hope to win is more time before you lose. This means no matter how long you play, all you’re left with us a nagging sense of wasted time, and a feeling that if you just would have had a few more coins, you could have beaten the system. Brian and Sarah fared no better. Their coins gone, they looked to us for salvation.

We played Japanese air hockey (better than American air hockey because of the rainbow round) and finally went into a photo booth. A Japanese photo booth should be on everyone’s bucket list for a visit to Japan. They’re simply amazing. They enlarge your eyes and lips, whiten your skin, and generally contort your visage into something from anime. It’s incredible.

Finally exhausted, we made for Indian food. We had a vague idea of where it was and by some stroke of luck I spotted it and Raquel pulled over. We feasted on curries hotter than anything I’ve had in a year and each had a piece of naan larger than a pizza. Heaven, that is until the indian food set in halfway home, and Brian demanded first for the bathroom. Raquel and I took offense at this, but ultimately agreed to wait in line for our own toilet. At least he lit some incense. 

So there it is, the dawn of a friendship, complete with food, fun, and sequential shits. I hope our replacements visit us in Texas one day, so we can share the eccentricities and quirks that can only develop when people live together with everyone else we know, who will be forced to look in from the outside and shrug, thinking simply, “I don’t get it.”

J. Darris Mitchell lives in Takayama Japan but will (hopefully) be going home on April 15th. If you liked this story, share it with your roommate! 

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Getting my Testicle Removed in Japan

It’s 2:00pm on Wednesday, March 18th. I’m in Takayama, Japan. I’m in a Red Cross hospital. In 18 hours they’re going to remove my left testicle and the tumor growing from it. A man with a milky eye is staring at me.
“Jo-?” He says it too short, little more than a grunt, and I repeat it for him. This time he holds out the vowel, “JO-o-o-o.” Sounds have specific durations in Japanese, and I suppose they do in English too, because no one ever gets my name quite right. But the nurse gets close so I nod and he introduces me to the woman who will be caring for me the next few days, Izumi. Raquel grabs on to her name and thanks the woman for doing the job my wife is so good. The rest of the nurses giggle. Raquel looks relieved that it’s not so serious that no one can laugh but I think it’s too early in the day for this shit.
Izumi comes out from behind the station to measure my height. She needs a foot stool to reach above my head. We go to my room. The bed is too small, so Izumi rolls it away while I stand dumbly and look at my roommates. One is snoring. One is in a wheelchair. I will learn the last of them is blind. Because I’m willing to share a room with them, I won’t have to pay a penny to stay in the hospital overnight. It’s 2:15. Maybe I should have asked for a private room.  
It’s 2:45. Izumi has already taken my blood pressure and prodded my swollen testicle. She tapped it once, like I would test on eggplant for ripeness, and scribbles a paragraph in Japanese. I pull my pants back up.
At 7:00, they stick a needle in my arm that they’ll use to deliver drugs and fluids during my stay here. I’ve spoken to the doctor. I finally got the courage to ask how many times he’s done this operation before, an inguinal orchiectomy. He ticked on his fingers “about twenty?” he said, and I was able to breathe easier. Izumi giggled. “First time?” she asked.
It’s 9:00 and the hospital is quiet except for my snoring roommates. I’m not tired. I miss my wife. I want a beer. I dream I’m in a nursing home and all of the fish in the aquarium there can’t remember how to eat. A bright orange fish jumps out of the tank and bites me in the crotch.
I wake up. It’s 6:30 AM. I’m ready to get rid of this fucking testicle. It’s funny how fast we forget our loyalties.
It’s 7:21. A nurse gives me a pain killer through the needle in my arm. It’s very difficult to read or write. I’m staring at the T-shirt I’m wearing. I’m supposed to be wearing a robe. I don’t know how to change because I’m connected to a bag of drugs by a long tube. A nurse comes and helps me, trying not to giggle. I smile at her.
I lose track of time. They take me to the Operating Room. It’s big and empty except for me in the center of it. I sit up and they stick a needle in my spine and inject an anesthetic. The doctor touches a cold wet piece of gauze to the right side of my abdomen and asks if I can feel it.
Yes, I say, angry that I have to say yes.
“OK” he says, “can you feel this?”

Feel what?

They’ve completely numbed the left side of my abdomen. They nod to eachother and I lay down, my arms are extended on either side, as if to be tortured. They cover me in a blanket and remove all of my clothes. They hang a curtain below my neck so I won’t have to watch them remove my testicle, but I can see my reflection in the glass light fixtures above me. They’re shaving me. They’re swabbing my penis with iodine. The nurse apologizes for the music and puts on Taylor Swift instead. I don’t know how to ask for anything else. I try to focus on the words to “Shake it Off.”

I try to look away as they slice into my abdomen with a scalpel. I try to look away when the doctor reaches into me with one his frightening devices. They remove the testicle. I’m relieved.
How much longer?
“Ten minutes,” the doctor says.
My heart rate drops to 39 beats per minute. They ask in broken English if they can give me an injection to raise my pulse. I say yes and try to stay awake. The injection doesn’t work, so they give me another one. My pulse raises to 47 bpm. The operation is finished. My temperature is 35.2 degrees Celsius, about 95 degrees Fahrenheit. I’m very cold and they move me to a heated bed and roll me out of the operating room. The nurses bow as we pass. 
It’s 2:30. I can feel my legs. The painkiller they gave me intravenously has finally set in. It was thick and white. Reminded me of either milk of the poppy or semen. I waited too long to ask for it and Raquel had to watch as I wreathed in pain after the local anesthetic wore off but before the drug set in. She left when I was still sweating and groaning. I’ve only been in that much pain once before. I shouldn't have waited.
It’s 4:30. I wake to find a nurse draining my catheter. I didn’t even know I had a catheter. I try to sit up and feel myself urinate. I have no control over it. I’m very embarrassed but he pretends like he doesn’t notice. 
A little later the doctor asks if I want to see my testicle. I nod for some reason, and he brings it in a Tupperware dish. My testicle is a yellowish ball dwarfed by a large pink tumor growing from it. I’m relieved it’s not inside me anymore.
If you ever feel anything wrong, go to the doctor. Time is your best weapon.
Looking at the tumor, I can’t help but think about why I got testicular cancer. I blame myself, what I’ve eaten, that I’ve not exercised enough, my great uncle, my luck finally running out. Raquel blames Japan, the diet, the radiation, the mercury in the fish, the universe. We’re both wrong I think, but it hurts too much not to blame anything.
Raquel visits me before bed. She’s happy I’m not in as much pain, so am I.

It’s 9:00am on Friday and the doctor is about to remove me catheter. “Painful,” he says and yanks the tube and I groan and try not to squirm as he pulls and pulls and pulls. At least this explains why I couldn’t control my urine. Asshole had that thing so far in it must have been in my bladder. An hour later and it burns like I’m pissing out barbed wire. But this is nothing compared to how I felt yesterday. At least I can walk.
Raquel visits and asks when I can go home. I’m so happy to have her that I want to laugh and cry, but it hurts my abdomen to do either so I just tell her soon. She leaves and I go to sleep.
It’s 8:00am on Saturday and the doctor says I can go home, I just need to watch for swelling. “If you get headache, drink water, then call us.” OK. I think I  understand. I hobble to the elevator and find the payphone and call Raquel. She’s out at kindergarten graduation. I hope she has the car. I don’t want to be here anymore but by the time I make it back to fifth floor it hurts to sit up.  
It’s 11:00 am and Raquel and Kuniko are here to take me home. The nurses ask if I want to stay for lunch. We laugh. It still hurts.
Outside, I thank Kuniko and hug her for her help but she’s too short and it hurts to bend over. I get in the car and look at Raquel. She’s so beautiful, and I’m so happy to have her. She drives me home. 

J. Darris Mitchell lives in Takayama with his darling wife. He is hoping to go home in April, but is awaiting the pathology report. Most of his posts aren't this depressing, but shit happens. Click here to read about when he was diagnosed by a man who didn't speak English, here for a car accident, or here for a much more entertaining penis festival.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

There's a Lump on my Testicle.

“Tuma” and an emphatic nod, was how I was told that my testicle is going to be removed in less than a week.
Wait, what?
The Japanese nurse sitting next to the doctor translated his diagnosis.
“The growth appears to be a tumor, he thinks you will need to get it removed as soon as possible, either this week or next, OK?”
Wait, what?
“He wants you to get tested. Please follow me.”
I went from laying on a paper sheet with my “shirt up and pants down,” to a roller coaster ride through the Japanese medical system. Fortunately my coworker Kuniko had phoned ahead, and the hospital had arranged for an English translator, a Japanese nurse named Nolico, otherwise I’d still probably be navigating the disinfected labyrinth that is every hospital in every country.
The first stop was a pee test. Somehow, I got the only squeamish nurse in the whole place—perhaps her English ability affected her sensitivities—so I had to nod and smile while she tried to explain how to urinate into a cup. Finally I had to snatch the plastic cup out of her hand and make my way into the bathroom.
“It is like teller window!” she called after me.
I stepped into the stall, dropped trow, and peed in a cup, careful not to go neither above nor below the ascribed line. Jesus this was going to be quite a day I thought as I pinched off the flow.
Next up was blood work, where Nolico bumped into her grandfather or great uncle or some shit and made excited conversation with him until she remembered that oh yeah this fucking gaijin has a lump on his testicle and she had to hold his hand through the whole damn operation. Lucky for their conversation, I was up next, and sat down at what looked like a fast-food counter for blood work. Two stools sat across from two dedicated nurses, who could find veins so quick Dracula’s head would spin. They punctured me and minutes later had filled 10 or so tiny vials of blood to be tested. I tried to peak at the old guy next to me, did he have more vials or less? But alas, I was whisked away for another test before I could count them.
This time I was able to leave my pants on, just the shirt had to go. The nurse was polite about my tattoos and copious body hair, and popped on her suction cups professionally. She pressed a button on a machine that spit out a foot or so of paper, an EKG or something? And we were off.
This time I needed an X-ray and only had to take off my button up shirt (the high this week was 4 degrees Celsius, so I had a few layers.). I stood next to a machine and made a variety of poses while the technicians hid behind safety glass, giggling and taking pictures. I swear I was doing tiger style and lotus hands out there while they sprayed me with X-rays. Needless to say I was sweating.
“It's warm isn't it?” Nolico asked.
No, I'm not fucking warm,

And that’s when I got scared.

The next test was a CT scan. My grandfather died from a CT scan. He had to swallow a fluid that the machine would be able to detect, but he had a bad reaction and never recovered. I told this to my English speaking nurse, who translated to the technician who told me not worry. If anything went wrong I could press a button.
Thanks for the reassurance, Doc.
But a CT scan was the best way to find out if the lump had metastasized and spread to other parts of my body, so what choice did I have? My grandfather was in his sixties and suffering from a cancerous liver, I’m 26 and healthy with a lump on my nut. Raquel appeared at this very moment, and I had time to tell her that I was about to attempt what my grandfather hadn’t lived through. She seemed about as relieved as I was that I’d have—thank goodness—a button to press! But we talked to the nurse again and she assured me I’d be fine, and to tell them if I felt anything strange. So in I went, and two minutes later out I came. I had no bad side effects, not even the warmth they warned me I might feel after the intravenous solution mixed in with my blood. The technician told me to drink plenty of water that day to help remove the solution and I was off to meet the doctor again.
Japan is nothing if not efficient, for though only two hours has passed, my results had all come in already.  Everything looks good. Blood work doesn’t show high levels of tumor markers, the X-rays and CT scan don’t show anything unusual in any of the common places testicular cancer spreads to, not my lymph nodes, lungs, or kidneys.
Yet, despite this tiny glimmer of good news, I will have to return to the hospital a week later to have my testicle removed, as this is the only way to find out if the growth is cancerous, and to prevent it from spreading if it is. Once it’s removed they will dissect my poor lost testicle to find out what afflicts it and has made it so swollen and firm.
I hear that the surgery can be painful, but in Japan I can stay in the hospital for free, and they want me to stay there for a week to pump me full of painkillers. So now I have nothing to do but wait, and try not to worry, and to tell everyone I know CHECK YOUR BALLS and your BOOBIES!  If anything is different, anything, please go to the doctor! I promise it won't be as awkward as learning you have a "tuma."

J.Darris Mitchell went through an inguinal orchiectomy (that's when they remove the cancerous testicle) in Japan. Click here to read about it.  It was scary, but you can handle it. And please, if you so much as THINK something is wrong, see your doctor immediately.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Dude, I Wrecked Your Car!

This is officially the worst week of my life. First, one hell of an awful visit to the doctor, and then today, I got in my first car accident.
What made it worse was that I was supposedly showing people how to drive. It’s hard to argue that that’s what I was actually doing considering the utter failure that ensued.
I was attempting to turn right on green, a task not without challenges but in no way difficult, and failed. One second I was following the car in front of me, the next a car horn was blaring and baring down on us. I hit the gas, praying to get out of the way in time and I almost did- but didn’t. It just hasn’t been that kind of week. The other driver swerved enough to only clip the back end of the car and smash his headlight, but seeing as how he didn’t want to risk oncoming traffic, collide we did.
Shit. Shit. Shit, are you guys OK? Shit.
The new English teachers were both sitting on side of the car that had been struck, and both looked more than a little freaked out. No one was hurt so now began the agonizing process of swapping insurance information with an angry Japanese man. I pulled the car over, turned on the flashers, and approached him, bowing and muttering gomenasai. I think that translates roughly to ‘I’m really fucking sorry.’
He wasn’t yelling, but he wasn’t too pleased either. It seemed to him I was in the wrong, and I didn’t have the heart to argue otherwise. After a minute, I finally made it clear that no, I didn’t understand a word he was saying, and that if he had a cell phone he better bust it out so I could call someone who did.
He dialed my Japanese guardian angel and coworker Kuniko a few times, but she didn’t pick up. Today was her only day off this week, and I’m sure she was trying to enjoy it.
When she didn’t pick up I just about barfed, but instead held it down and had him call another friend to translate, but alas only her Dutch husband answered and his Japanese skills aren’t quite up to snuff when it comes to settling insurance claims. So the driver and I stood and gestured, until finally my darling wife came over and had us trade information. I promised we’d call him soon, and with a suspicious glance at the roman letters on the piece of paper I’d given him, he let us go on our way.
“Do you guys need to go back home?” the new teachers asked.
I hung my head and nodded. Yeah, I’d need to tell the boss-man about this.
The new teachers wisely went on a walk while I called Kuniko, who finally answered and called Iwayama-san, who called the insurance company. Kuniko asked if we didn’t mind staying at the house for a few minutes so Iwayama-san could come check out the carnage.

I still can’t get over how polite the Japanese are.

Iwayama-san showed up grinning, like he always does. The only difference was that for once he didn’t have a cabbage or a bag of apples to give us. He asked if we were ok and I told him yes, and he asked me if the car still worked and I told him yes. I told him I was sorry and he just grinned and patted me on the back. Iwayama-san adores Gaijin, and believes we are at our cutest when we are at our most inept. I’m surprised his dog has all four legs really. He seems like the kind of guy who’d try to nurse a bird with a one wing or a raccoon without a tail. For all I know he’s pleased the car has a nice ding in it now, it makes it that much more endearing. He told me not to worry and that he had a good deal on the insurance. I asked if we could still use the car and he laughed and said yes and then was on his way.
So we piled back in the car, apologized to the new teachers who apologized to us and we all laughed about how we’re all becoming Japanese. We sat down to a cup of tea and I realized that this time last year, I had just won a beard contest and finished a marathon and that life’s not always going to be peaches and gravy and that sometimes it’s really, really hard, but—and this is from a man whose had entirely too much peaches and gravy in his life—when the peaches and gravy finally run out (and it will) there will still be the people who apologize for being in the car you smashed and the people that bring you bags of apples, and though there may be no peaches, there’s people like my darling wife- people who are more than willing to take the wheel when you lose control, and drive you home for a cup of tea when you need it most.  

J. Darris Mitchell lives in Takayama Japan with his darling wife, and two wonderful new teachers who will be using the car he almost destroyed. If you enjoyed this story please share it. Click here to read more about Iwayama-san.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Get Used to It!

My time as a teacher in Japan only stretches another fifteen days. I’ve broken protocol and started telling my students that I’ll be leaving. Neither my wife nor our coworker supports this. I guess they’re rip-the-bandage-off-at-once kind of people. Responses vary, and I’m beginning to think I should’ve just pulled a Houdini in two weeks.   

Most of the students only ask about the new teacher. “Boy or girl?” “Is she pretty?” “How old are they?” Most agreed a female teacher would greatly improve their current predicament. One group of seven year old boys, possibly resentful they were going to have to learn how to terrorize a new teacher effectively, spent the class period drawing piles of smiling poop on the board. Neither the promise of candy or threats in a foreign tongue could deter this behavior. Two of my adult classes stole my thunder by actually quitting the class moments before I was going to break the news. “Sorry, Joe. Last class.” I tried to explain that I was leaving too and that they didn’t need to apologize but they just bowed and made their exit while I tried not to feel abandoned.  

Not all responses were bad though. Two thirteen year old boys who refuse to speak English unless I let them play basketball cheered me up. Haruto asked me how many more classes we’d have together and when I told him it was only three.  He repeated “Oh no! Oh no! Oh no! Oh no!” on loop for the next three minutes. That’s the most English I’ve ever heard him say, and it hit me right in the feelz. Takumi, not as prone to bizarre and emotional outbreaks said nothing, only smiled. Haruto called him careless (We’d been studying adjectives but I didn’t have the heart to correct him) but Takumi only dug through a notebook. He found what he was looking for, looked me straight in the eyes and told me, “Good friends live on in the heart.”

I did my best not to blubber like a grandmother in front of two boys only interested in throwing a deflated rubber ball in a dented metal can.

But the reaction that touched me the most was from the first person I told. I let slip that I was leaving because Akira informed me he was going to be opening a Japanese style steak house. As in a place that only seats six people, and he will personally prepare every bite of food for his diners. He wants to open in November, he just needs a location. My mouth watering I confessed that I wouldn’t get to try his steak because I was leaving in a month for America. He frowned at me and reached for his dictionary. After thumbing around he said, “I got used to you.”

What a compliment. But there’s a lot in those words. Maybe it means I’ve adapted to life in Japan that such a simple statement could mean so much. But I guess that’s the truth of life. We only grow accustomed to the little things that make us comfortable. Coffee, how people say hello, all the little stuff you never notice unless you have to go without.
I had got used to life here, and damnit Japan, I mean it.