Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Guest post: The unusual Japanese cure for toothache

We haven't had a guest post here for a while but today's is a special one from a blogging friend who I knew in real life first - before she even started her blog! Rachel usually blogs about parenting over at Because I Said So but like me, she's spent plenty of time living abroad and travelling and has heaps of great travel stories to tell. Take it away, Rachel ...

Have you ever been sick enough to require medical attention whilst overseas? A few years back, while in the UK for the summer break from university, I was deliriously sick with the flu. I felt as though I was endlessly walking, surrounded by unfamiliar faces in a crowded environment and that it was constantly dark. Oh no...wait...that last part was true as it was the English winter and daylight hours were over by 3pm! I ended up having to visit a doctor which was fairly easy - no language barrier or unexpected medical advice - and within a couple of days I was back on my feet enjoying my trip.

A few years later I found myself in Japan with a bad toothache. I'm not one for making visits to the dentist - not because of the drill as you might expect, but because I have this overwhelming fear of needles - so that was not an option. I wasn't sure where I could get cloves from (my 'at home' remedy) either. I figured I would just sleep it off and hope that it would go away.

Japanese dental clinic: Rachel wasn't going to one of these!
Sometime in the middle of the night I realised that the pain wasn't going to go away and that I would have to take a pain killer if I hoped to get some sleep. We had been in Japan for a while at that point and my supply of Panadol from home had unfortunately run out, so I decided to make a quick trip down to the convenience store.

After scouring the store with little success, I plucked up my courage and went to ask the sales assistant. I didn't know the word for 'pain killer' in Japanese but I did know the grammar required to ask for something. Considering Japanese is quite a syllabic language and many foreign words are included into the language by changing the pronunciation slightly, I figured I could have a go at asking for some 'aspirin'.

"Sumimasen, ha ga itai. Asupurin ga arimasuka" (Excuse me, my tooth hurts. Do you have Aspirin?)

The sales assistant looked puzzled at me for a moment, which I guessed either meant he was surprised to hear such fantastic Japanese coming from a foreigner's mouth ... or he had no idea what I was asking for. A moment later he motioned that I should follow him and led me towards the back of the store to the fridge section and then pointed to the desserts.

"Purin" (pudding) he said quizzically and left me there.

Japanese pudding ... "purin"
Well, I was just as puzzled as he was, but I learnt two things that night. One, "pudding" and "aspirin" sound remarkably the same in Japanese, and two, they don't sell medicines in convenience stores in Japan, which is decidedly inconvenient!

Has anyone else had a similar experience? Thanks Amanda for letting me share one of my funnier moments from living in Japan on your blog!


  1. That´s a funny one Rachel!

  2. I'm guessing Japanese dentists don't approve of the use of pudding for curing toothache ;-)
    Actually I had some scary Japanese dentist experiences so it's probably good that you avoided them!!

  3. oh I can't imagine going to a dentist in a foreign language country! how would i explain my phobia. that would make for some funny gestures :)

  4. Don't worry, you would have gained several additional phobias during my dentist adventures. The one the school recommended who was meant to speak English didn't, was so nervous to have a foreigner there that his hands shook, and his tools were rusty! I ran ...

  5. I have try Chinese cure something that you will stuck in the hole of the tooth.


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