The preamble to the World Health Organization charter reads, “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” And yet, when I asked my oncologist about physical therapy, all I received was a sympathetic half-smile.
I realized I would have to take my well-being into my own hands. So I studied lymph drainage videos on Youtube (How did we ever survive before Youtube?) and found a therapist on my own. He has been working out some of the scar tissue in my torso. I didn’t know that such a thing is possible; the doctors say I have to have additional surgery to cut out scar tissue.
Say what? You want to cut me open…again…to clean up the mess from cutting me open?
I don’t think so.
I progress with recovery, an ongoing process, a seemingly endless series of baby steps. Just recently, I have noticed some of my muscle strength returning, a glimmer of the joy yoga used to bring me. For months, just turning over in bed and standing up hurt every joint; just imagine being so tired that getting out of bed is exhausting. But this morning I did a seamless transition from core work on my back to downward facing dog. (If you’re not a yogi and don’t know what that means, please feel free to be impressed. A few years ago, that would have been gibberish to me, too.)
While I can’t really complain about the medical treatment I received in general, I have discovered some glaring holes in the system. Women’s health is still a secondary issue, shrouded in mystery, whispered about behind closed doors. And women’s well-being is a non-issue; the very existence of our well-being is questioned. A prime example: Number one on the Japanese list of side effects we and our families might expect to see from chemo is grouchiness, whereas grouchiness doesn’t even appear on any of the English websites I consulted. I would assume Japanese society still expects women to smile, no matter what, a concept the West seems to have ditched. There was a time when women marched and burned their bras for the right to be bitchy. I am grateful to them.
(Heavens. I just deleted two paragraphs about social injustice and bullying and racism and guns and violence and the lunatic fringe, which includes people who decide to move to Hawaii during a volcano eruption. Who would do such a thing?)
Apologies, dear reader. It seems a bit too much at times, coping with the fallout from last year while Madame Pele is raining her fallout much too close to my soon-to-be backyard. May I ask that you do whatever it is you do, pray or chant or meditate or light incense or do a hoopla dance, to send a little luck my way? I don’t think that’s too much to ask.
“Have you got any plans for tomorrow?”
“I want to DO something. I worked so hard last month—we both did—and next week will be crazy busy again, but I’ve got this week off and I want to DO something.” Normally when the weather is good and neither of us has to work, we take a long walk around the neighborhood, which is both good for us and free, but I wanted to DO something.
“I don’t know. A museum or something, something we haven’t done before. Let me go see what I can find on the interwebs.”
What I found was the Edo-Tokyo Open-air Architectural Museum. According to their website, “Since the Edo period, Tokyo has lost many valuable historical buildings because of fires, floods, earthquakes and warfare. Today, the city’s valuable cultural heritage is still being eroded due to social and economic changes.” That’s true enough. Just the other day, we were on one of our epic walks and came across this:
See the shape of the supporting beam just under the roof? Gorgeous. Many old Japanese farm houses feature that type of construction. I was surprised to see it in a city house and saddened to see that it was being deconstructed, which made the open air museum sound that much more appealing. I had never even heard of it, for one thing, and it was situated in a vast park I had also never heard of. Apparently, Koganei Park is the second largest park in the metropolitan area and has been enjoyed by the public since 1954. The only one bigger is Kasai Rinkai Park, which is an upstart having only opened in 1989, but it does have views of both the sea and Disneyland, and one of those oversized Ferris Wheels, and an aquarium with a pretty impressive tuna tank. OK. I take back the upstart comment. They’re both pretty cool.
I’m a big fan of both parks and architecture, so off we went. It took four trains and a bus to get there, but it was worth it. The park is truly vast:
The bright green bit is the museum, the rest is park, and the museum itself is 17 acres, so that gives you some idea of how big it is. The park also has nearly 2000 cherry trees. The day was one of those rare springtime gifts from nature, clear and sunny, warm but not too warm. Sakura viewing season was nearly over, but there was just enough of a breeze to send the petals swirling and fluttering toward the earth, a sight that always makes me want to clap my hands and dance around like a little girl.
The museum itself was a collection of old houses from different parts of Tokyo that the metropolitan government deemed worthy of relocation, preservation, and exhibition to the public. It was also a little overwhelming. I was not expecting such a concentration of elegance and beauty. Maybe it was the perfect weather, or the joy of not having to work, but it seemed like it was impossible to take a bad picture. You could go inside all the buildings and wander around the rooms, losing yourself in the awareness of past lives and the waves of change Japan has experienced over time.
The west part of the museum featured the oldest houses, thatch roofed wooden farm houses, lovely to look at but hell to live in. They’re cold, dark and drafty and there’s nothing but sliding paper doors to divide the rooms, so the occupants had little to no privacy. Plus, I know from visiting the Nihon Minkaen (Japan Open-Air Folk House Museum, another very cool place) that the smell of thatch in the heat of summer will make you retch. Still, the craftsmanship alone makes these buildings museum-worthy.
Sometimes we would turn a corner and suddenly be faced with a world of such exquisite beauty that it couldn’t possibly exist.
And then there was all of this.
As you move toward the east, the houses are newer, and that’s where the astonishment sets in. The Japanese are truly adept at absorbing and adapting foreign things. An otherwise thoroughly western style room with elegant parquet floors might feature tiny-paned windows echoing the shoji paper window screens of earlier design.
One house had an A frame design that reeked of Frank Lloyd Wright, if the man himself had been Japanese. The little yellow house strongly reminded me of Miss Nancy’s house, except for the tiled roof. (She was my grandfather’s southern belle girlfriend from North Middleton, Kentucky.)
I think that’s what inspired such astonishment. Growing up, the one thing my parents had in common was a love of old buildings and antiques. On family vacations, we spent a lot of time visiting old houses and historical museums, so these buildings felt sort of like old friends, except for the nuanced and delightfully unexpected differences in culture and tradition. Almost all new houses are built in Western style these days, including all of the five (5!) being built around my house right now, but it’s rare to find old Western style Japanese houses.
The east part of the museum is a somewhat Disneylandesque collection of shops and other businesses, mostly from the 1920’s but some were older.
My grannyphone pedometer says we walked 16,659 steps, 10.8km, that day. Needless to say, our feet were tired, but our eyes and hearts were full of images that will stick with us, and getting away from the familiar always jump-starts my joie de vivre. It was a pink petal paradise, with sakura ice cream providing the final, perfect tweak.