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Chapter Ten: Pill Odyssey

February 1, 2011

Pill, pill, pill.


I wander through the crammed, disorderly shelves at the corner drugstore, passing through the shimmery rainbow of cosmetics palettes and the boxes of chocolates and green tea piled up on the floor. There are headache medicines, cough medicines, vitamin pills. I move a few shelves down and spot the condum packages, absently picking one up as I look for the elusive pill. I’ve never even seen a package of pills before, only in magazines, most recently in a French magazine proclaiming pills to be the most revolutionary invention of the century, for letting “women take control of their bodies”. I have no idea what they look like, and after minutes of fruitless searching, finally ask a middle-aged man from the front counter.


“Anooo, suimasen,” I say, waving my hand gently to catch his attention. He looks up, and I lean in to whisper, “Do you happen to have ‘the pill’?”

The man raises his eyebrows, and shakes his head vigorously, waving his hand in front of his face.

“No, no, we don’t have the pill here!” he replies in a harsh, condemning whisper, turning his face away as he got back to organizing his batch of small batch of stomach medicines.


I encountered the same reaction from another store, before finally a lady employee who I asked gently told me, “You can’t find ‘the pill’ here, miss. You’ll have to get it from your doctor, a women’s specialist doctor.”

Really?” I ask in disbelief. Here, I had thought the pills could be bought as casually as cough drops.


“Yes. You need a proper prescription for them too. Go see your doctor for those,” she said, in a hushed voice, as if we were talking about a deceased relative at a funeral.


This is the thing that slightly bothered me about culture, not just here but everywhere. The furtive, panicky stuffing of menstruation pads inside paper bags, the hushed talk about condoms and and all things sex-related. It’s as bad as if I was buying medication for an anal infection or foot fungus. Was it such an embarrassing thing, this pill?


I walk out of the store, crossing my arms in contemplation as I cross the street. My doctor — I actually had no doctor yet in Tokyo. I had seen a doctor, in a clinic before, but was furious to find that I was being charged for it — Canadian clinics were free — so had lost my desire to deal with the doctors here, until now.


The next day, I walked outside in the morning sunshine with a map in hand, visiting three “women’s clinics” in my area to request the pill.

All three said they don’t prescribe it, the second doctor giving me such a cold, unblinking look as she said so that I wondered if this medication was something highly immoral in Japan.


Now that the clock is running near 11am, I have to head toward work — I walk over to Shiinamachi station, baseball hat blocking the bright sunlight, walking past the small family-owned veggie stores and fruits stands with hand-drawn signs cardboard signs poking out of piles of produce. Owned and operated by wrinkly, elderly men and women leading small lives, with the overwhelming, large drama of Japan’s past 50 years emblazoned in their cloudy eyes.


The ride from Shiinamachi to Ikebukuro station, and transfer to the Yamanote line is never pleasant. There is always something restless about Ikebukuro station, the droves of salarymen in black suits speed-walking toward work, the youth in expensively garish clothing looking for quick work in the city’s seedy gambling and prostitution dens, and the homeless, busy at work in their drinking and mind disturbances in the dirty underground floor of the subway station. Next to Shinjuku, it is the least liked station in Tokyo, and I always make a short run to the Yamanote train platform to avoid lingering too long in the station. And once on the Yamanote line platform, there is peace — and the slight butterflies-in-stomach as I reach INT, thinking and anticipating what news will be in the works this time.


As I get off Harajuku station and make my way past the shady green Yoyogi park to INT, I should be thinking about the business news, but I am preoccupied by the thought of pills.

What would it be like? Would I get fatter, start to produce milk or something? Would I still be vulnerable to STDs even if not pregnant? And what about the first sex experience? You are huge, as are your man parts: what if it hurt like hell, would I be able to bear it and go with it to the end?


What if I were incredibly dry, or (horror) revealed to have a really shallow vagina? Surely that would be a deal-killer. I had once heard of a girl who was rushed to the hospital her first time because her boyfriend’s rather long penis had pounded into her cervix — she had heard the first time was supposed to hurt, but didn’t expect to be vomiting and being carried out of her love nest in an ambulance. Shuddering, I think so long as that doesn’t happen, I should be fine.


I show my security card to the guards and walk up the stairs to the 7th floor — a form of exercise, and a calming ritual before the chaos of work. In the large newsroom, it feels instantly 2 degrees hotter than inside: there are so many, many people wandering about the room, the room is continually stuffy and lacking personal space. Pulling out my laptop from the cabinet, I squeeze uncomfortably between Naminori-san and Nao-san, who exchange greetings with me as I sit down.

“What’re you looking up?” asks Nao, bright eyes curious.

“Just some women’s clinics,” I say quickly, half-shutting my laptop. “I don’t have a doctor here yet.”

Naminori-san pipes in English, shaking her long, light brown surfer’s hair, “Ya know, there are some really good ones near Shibuya station, in the Ebisu direction, you should check them out.” Being the “big sister” personality that she is, she starts looking up several on her laptop, murmuring, “hmm, there are quite a lot of AIDS clinics and abortion centres….”  but I find one on Google and instantly feel this is the one.


After work, I walked out into the cloudy skies toward Shibuya station. The clinic was small, cozy, and the doctor — an elegant, tiny elderly woman — was completely different from the other doctors, patting my back and congratulating my “pill” decision.


She said, however, that insurance would not cover the costs, and that I would need various health tests in my woman parts before I could buy it, which would take a few more weeks. Having not done my research, I grumbled a bit about being in fine physical health, no need for testing. Mostly I was anxious about making you wait the extra time, but there would be no pill without a body exam, no questions asked.

Sighing, I scheduled my appointment and plodded down the stairs, thinking how many years ago I should have experienced this were I a normal girl.


Droplets of rain hit my face as I look up at the cloudy sky. Pulling up my hood, I walk down the busy streets, dreaming of warm vegetables and rice.


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