Japan Part II: Kyoto, Hiroshima, Osaka 2.27.15-3.3.17

The next day after the marathon we took the 270 km/hr Shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto. The ride was under 3 hours and ultra smooth.

We rented a nice Airbnb room and the apartment complex had a mini shrine outside the front door. It was prescient of the many, many shrines and temples we would see in Kyoto. We spent about a day and a half of touring Kyoto. We did have temple fatigue, but when you have this once in a lifetime opportunity you have to keep pushing. We enjoyed the peace and tranquility of it all. We could move slowly, think clearly and live in the moment. It was very different from our hectic lives at work.

My favorite sections of Kyoto were Matsubara Dori and Gion. You could eat your weight in yama-yatsuhashi samples while ogling at the pretty kimonos. I am not sure if we spotted maiko (geisha in training). We saw some lovely girls with the white makeup, wooden shoes and hair ornaments. Even if they were not real geisha, they looked authentic in my mind!

We went on a day trip to Hiroshima and visited a garden and an art museum. We also went to ground zero of the atomic bomb. The structure still stands and the Hiroshima Memorial Peace Museum made me choke up. The story that touched me the most was about a woman who went searching for her husband as soon as news hit that a bomb exploded. She could not go to his office immediately because of the ferocious fires. She checked the relief stations, but he was nowhere. A week later she was able to make it into the city where she dug through the debris to get to his office. She found her husband’s bones in the position of a person sitting in a chair, with his arm outstretched towards his lunch box. Heartbreaking.

After Kyoto, it was all about business! We transferred to Osaka and met with many people. George arranged two meetings in one day and, besides the marathon, it was one of the most interesting days of our trip. First, I have to digress and talk about how awesome the bathroom was in our hotel because it really was interesting!

The Toto toilet in Shinjuku included a bidet and a control panel to adjust things like water direction and water pressure. The Toto toilet in Osaka had the same features, but more! There were buttons for water temperature, drying and extra deodorizing! The toilets made me happy and added an extra level of excitement to the trip.

 

George took us to the pharmacy district in Osaka (it is like Pill Hill in Seattle). First stop was Mitsubishi-Tanabe Pharma Corporation. We sat in a meeting room with some very important people: Mr. Teruo Ueno, Mr. Mitsuru Kawanishi, Mr. Kouji Kawabe and Mrs. Kazuko Hamada. George made handouts with pictures for each of the 5 marathons that I had completed to date. He spoke for a bit in Japanese, then turned to me and instructed me to talk 5 minutes on each marathon. I was a little intimidated, but when the “big boss” (George’s words) looked directly at me spoke Japanese, in a kind and soft tone, I knew he was encouraging me.

After the meeting, we went to the company cafeteria for lunch. Brian and I had udon and it was very comical because my chopstick skills are pathetic. Mr. Kawanishi tried to teach me proper technique, but I'm hopeless! Fortunately we were eating udon, so the goal was to get some part of the noodle into my mouth and I could slurp up the rest!

Next, Mrs. Hamada gave us a tour of the company museum. Tanabe was founded in 1687 and is the second oldest pharmacy in the world (Merck est. 1668). It was cool to see hundred year old scales and balances. It was also cool to learn that in 1882 Tanabe had sole distribution rights for salicylic acid and sold to it sake brewers as a preservative. I wonder if it also helped for hangover prevention!

When we were saying our good-byes at the front of the building, they told Brian and me to look up… they raised an American flag on our behalf. We were slack-jawed! Arigatou gozaimasu, Tanabe-Mitsubishi!

Our next stop was Takeda Pharmaceutical Company. Upon arrival, we were taken into an auditorium where Brian and I met with the interpreters who would be translating our speeches. They told us to speak slowly because they would be translating into headsets worn by the attendees. These people included Takeda employees and Friends of MS Association, Kansai Chapter. The meeting started off with George saying a few words, then each of the twelve MS members briefly spoke about their disease and welcomed us to Japan. We were presented with gifts and a generous donation to help with our travel in Japan!

When it was my turn to go on stage, I was not nervous because the audience was so warm, but speaking with an interpreter is hard! I tried to speak slowly and I could actually hear out loud the translations in the headsets worn by the audience. It sounded rapid and I wondered if I was too fast. Some people in the audience spoke English and laughed at my jokes, but for the people listening to the translation, the laughs came a few seconds after I spoke. It was funky and I am happy I got some laughs!

Brian’s speech was really sweet. It was his first time going on stage to talk about my MS and our adventure. I loved the last line of his speech:

“And we never forget that my wife is not defined by MS, but her resolve to fight against it.”

The audience was also swept away by his speech. At the end when we had Q&A, people commented on our strong relationship and particularly Brian’s sacrifices, not just for 7 on 7, but for all my needs. One researcher from Takeda said he would work more to talk to his wife to build a stronger relationship. One woman commented to me she was hesitant to come because she is not a runner. She said she was happy she decided to attend because “we are the same.” We are both affected by this nasty disease and we share the same struggles, frustrations and hardships. She also made comment she would make more effort to look on the bright side. I feel like Brian and I affected many people in a positive way. I was proud of us!

It was a long day of meetings and speeches. We had a chance to unwind with George, Mr. Akira Nishimura and Ms. Yuki Shinohara over dinner at a small restaurant. We had a fun time talking about 70’s music, the Osaka's Hanshin Tigers baseball team, and my obsession with mochi and Toto toilets, and learning more about Japanese culture and customs.

Although our two nights in Osaka was very short we really liked the vibe of the city. It does not feel as crowded as Tokyo, but has the same charm. I could definitely live here! I'm even getting used to eating raw fish!