Lynn and Kinjo-san were eating Blue Seal ice cream in a cafe on the busy street of Kokusai Dori. Kinjo-san had arrived at eight in the morning to pick Lynn up from the guesthouse. By noon, they had finished walking most of the main street and markets behind. Along the way, Lynn picked up a pair of shisa painted in bright red and orange. They tasted dried local seafood, desserts, fruits, and mozuku, a slimy and refreshingly sour seaweed shaped like angel hair pasta. As Lynn contemplated the next stop, she licked the cookie and cream off her tiny wooden spoon and proceeded to scratch the patch of eczema at the back of her left ear.
Kinjo-san asked to see her eczema. Lynn flipped back her ear to reveal a patch of red itchy skin and brushed it off as a helpless situation that surfaced during her travels in the southwest part of China. Though secretly, she viewed her eczema as proud battle scars of a seasoned traveler.
“I think it was in Guangxi that my eczema appeared, or was it Wuxi? Can’t really recall. But anyway, I don’t just have it at the back of my ear. There are some on my elbows and back too.”
“I see. Have you seen the doctor?”
“Yes. But it comes and goes, and it doesn’t fully go away.”
“Well. We will get it treated today.”
Lynn was skeptical but was curious for Kinjo-san to lead the way. Despite her tiny frame, Kinjo-san had a way of evoking command. Perhaps it was this trait of Kinjo-san that reminded Lynn of her late grandmother.
The pair took the car and made their way to the nearby Kainan Street. Kinjo-san parked by the road curb and led Lynn through the busy street. A familiar scent came to Lynn. She panicked.
“Chinese medicine? We are going for TCM?”
“We call it TCM back home. It means Traditional Chinese medicine.”
“Yes, TCM. You got your eczema in China, so we treat it at its roots.”
A sizeable stand-up banner greeted the pair. Three bold kanji characters were printed. Kanpo yaku. Kanpo for short. Han medicine from China, before China, became present-day China.
“Wait. Is this a Japanese Chinese medicine hall? Or is it a Chinese-run Chinese medicine hall?”
“Just come in.”
The wooden hand-painted plaque board and rows of herbs in the display window concealed the contemporary interiors of the medicine hall. As the pair entered and waited in the tea area, they overheard a conversation in the examination room. An anxious Chinese lady who spoke with a northern accent relied on her bilingual Chinese friend to communicate with the practitioner.
“If you are concerned, you should not take my medicine.”
“She is just a little concerned because you prescribed a weaker dosage compared to what she is used to having from other places.”
“In my opinion, this is enough for her.”
“Okay. My friend would like to know if she can continue her Western medicine.”
“It is best to not mix the two. If your friend insists, she should have a 2-hour interval between the medicines.”
Lynn pitied the physician. These were common questions even for TCM practitioners, sinsehs, back home in Singapore.
“Thank you. We will take our leave.”
As the pair walked out of the examination room and the hall, Kinjo-san led Lynn to see the physician. For one reason or another, be it TCM or kanpo, the practitioner tended to be a man in his fifties or sixties. And indeed, in sat a man in his fifties or sixties.
Kinjo-san and the practitioner, Nago-sensei, exchanged friendly greetings and spoke in a mix of heavy-accented Japanese and the local dialect. They were longtime friends. Kinjo-san explained Lynn’s condition, and Nago-sensei carefully examined Lynn’s eczema.
When done, he addressed them both in simple Japanese, “I will need time to prepare. Come back in an hour to make payment and collect your medicine.”
Lynn was a little anxious. She asked, “How much will it be?”
“It’s a standard fee of six hundred yen for a day’s worth of medicine, and you will need thirty days’ worth of medicine for a start.”
Lynn was bewildered. She would have to find some work to pay for the medicine. Noticing Lynn’s worry, Kinjo-san offered to pay, which Lynn immediately refused.
“How are you going to pay if I don’t help?”
“I’m going to work at the guesthouse. If they would take me.”
“So you are staying longer?”
“Yes, I am. At least until I finished my course of medicine.”
Kinjo-san was happy. She said, “Let’s go eat taco rice. It’s like taco without the shells on rice, and you can add lots of cheese and sauces. Or how about spam and egg sandwich? Tonight, we drink Okinawan alcohol, awamori, and fried pig skin at my place.”
“Isn’t the diet of the Okinawans supposed to be really clean and healthy? That’s the reason for the longevity of the Okinawans, no?”
Kinjo-san laughed boisterously till onlookers smiled at them with amusement.
A few onlookers turned and looked at Kinjo-san.
“There are many kinds of Okinawans.”