The Chemist

Sometimes, when I answer my door, I give the visitor a surprise. I don’t mean to, but my foreignness startles them. They try to hide it, of course, but I can see it in the slight flinch and momentary hesitation before they speak. It’s there in the eyes. It happened today.

I was busily planning some lessons when the doorbell rang. I slid the door open and found myself looking down upon an elderly man holding a small clipboard. I greeted him and his eyes widened a tad as he stared at me for a moment before saying, in Japanese, ‘I’m the chemist,’

‘Right,’ I said. ‘Hello.’

He continued looking at me and said a bit more slowly, ‘I’m the chemist.’

‘Yes, I got that,’ I said. ‘How can I help you?’

‘Could I have the medicine box?’

It was a peculiar request. I thought a medicine box was perhaps a first-aid kit but, nevertheless, I felt less than inclined to readily hand mine over to a bald stranger upon my doorstep.

‘Sorry?’ I said. ‘The medicine box?’

‘Medicine box,’ he said making the shape of a box with his hands. And then, super slowly, he reminded me that he was the chemist.

The man was clearly under the impression that I didn’t understand him. He was right, I didn’t. But it wasn’t for the reasons he thought. It was not because of my Japanese ability. Rather, it was simply because he didn’t seem to want to elaborate on why he, the chemist, had come to my house in search of a medicine box.

‘I understand you are the chemist,’ I said, ‘but I don’t know what a medecine box is and I don’t have one for you.’

He now looked as confused as I was.

‘But I’m the chemist,’ he said again.

‘Yes, I know,’ I said. ‘But I don’t have a medicine box. Sorry.’

‘But I have your name here,’ he said, looking at his clipboard. He showed me the name and said, ‘Look, Hasegawa-san!’

‘Two doors down,’ I said with a chuckle. He didn’t laugh though. He looked at me as though it were a cunning ploy I’d hatched to avoid giving him my medicine box. He got back in his car and there spent several moments glancing alternately at a map and back up to my door before finally driving away, straight past Hasegawa-san’s house.

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6 Responses to The Chemist

  1. sibylleito says:

    Congratulations, you experience the sales/marketing approach of the largest Japanese generic manufacturer. Mostly they have contracts with companies or families to automatically about once per month refill the medicine box with the drugs that were used up in the meantime. It is a very lucrative business that binds enduser to the same brand and lots of constant sales flow.
    I have to say I really admire their sales strategy.

    All the best,

    Sibylle Ito

    • Really? I just assumed my neighbour must have some sort of special condition whereby he was in need of regular drugs so had a kind of contract with the chemist. Thanks for the information. They didn’t try and sell me anything – maybe I look too healthy!

      • sibylleito says:

        Just check in the next few days the flyers you get in your mailbox. Maybe they will try to get your membership this way.
        I really love Japanese drugs or health ingredients advertisements, because you can always see manga style drawings of some happy drug taking family members. Keep us please posted if you get a potential flyer.

  2. Jeffrey says:

    Welcome back! I hadn’t thought to check in a while. Missed your blog posts.

  3. I had an instance of this the other day, actually. A middle-aged lady was going door-to-door collecting unwanted households items for the disaster relief fund. The deer in the headlights look came straight to the fore until I assured her I could speak Japanese, at which point she went off at length about having visited the UK many moons ago and how genuinely excited she was to meet a Brit in Japan. By this point such conversations usually just bore me, but she was so lovely she even ended up giving me the book from her handbag as some sort of ‘thank you for coming to Japan’ gift! All very bizarre but I can’t say I wasn’t touched!

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