I should have entitled this blog post, "I was a Teenage Monster English Teacher in a Japanese Insane Asylum..." But, nah. That would have sounded like I was teaching at public school.Lots of good folks teach English in Japan. I did too many years ago. I did it during the heyday of the bubble when English teachers were earning $50,000 (USD) a year doing that job.
Not only have I taught English to kids, businessmen and office workers. I have taught English at insane asylums. There's not too many English teachers in Japan who can make that claim.
This is a continuation of: Drug Rehab at Asia's Most Famous Hospital - Part 1 (Life in the Cooler) Upon Arrival to Rehab Everyone Must Detox in the Feared Cooler
Maybe thirty minutes or an hour or so after the doctors left my padded cell, three males nurses came in to see me. Two of them were carrying hard rubber batons and standing. Even though they towered over me, they were not in a threatening position or stance at all. The one in the middle crouched down to me and said very kindly,
"Mike san! We are going to take you to D-40 now; the ward with the other patients. Now, like the doctor told you, if you fight or cause trouble, we'll have to put you back in here. Do you understand?"
"Yes. I understand. I won't cause any trouble."
The two male nurses with the rubber batons helped me up from my seated position as it was difficult to stand since my legs were numb form all that sitting or laying down the entire time I was there in the cooler. Then, arms under both my shoulders, they helped me stagger out of the cooler. My wife would tell me later on that I was in the cooler for a total of four days. I have repeated in this blog every recollection of my time there.
We exited the cooler and I could see that there were two other coolers next to mine. I could see into them but couldn't see any other patients.
Well cooked. On a cage. Not going anywhere.
"No!" I mumbled.
They opened the door. After days in the cooler, it was like a window into another world. I was standing in a black and white world and, across the threshold was a world in color. There I saw several people walking around and talking. There was a TV set on in the distance and several men were watching it. A group of other men were huddled by the window smoking cigarettes. A cleaning lady was mopping the floor. I took it all in. Humanity! Civilization!
THX exited the tunnel and came out into the natural world above ground
Have you ever seen that movie, THX1138 when, at the end of the movie, THX1138 escapes from the underground city and exits through a massive tunnel up to the surface world? Underground, There is no emotion; the civilization created by man is cold and everything is white and black. It is a suffocating environment. But when THX exits the tunnel, the bright sun is there and all the colors of nature. Birds fly by. You get the feeling that THX is Adam of the Old Testament's Genesis.
That's how I felt. I had just come from a place that was completely white and deadly silent with no life at all and just on the opposite side of a door not a skip from where I being held, life was buzzing. I was awestruck how these two seemingly totally opposite places could be so close together. When they told me that I'd go a ward called D-40, I expected a ten minute walk, through several locked gates and up and down stairs, more hallways and through guard posts. But no! It wasn't an 8 second walk.
I was back with normal people and others like me who had a drug or alcohol problem. I was back with people who I thought I could talk to and relate to....
Normal people, right? Normal people...or so I thought.
Soon after, my doctor and some nurses came to see me and they gave me orientation. They explained everything about Matsuzawa hospital and the ward, D-40, that was to be my home for the foreseeable future. They told me the rules for eating, socializing, cleaning up duty, everything. I was totally blown away when the doctor mentioned that "drug and alcohol rehabilitation patients are here together with patients who are suffering from schizophrenia and other mental disorders." I made a double-take. "What, doctor?" He confirmed what I thought I had heard.
Now that scared me to death. I was thinking of that Stanley Kubrick movie the Shining where Jack Nicholson chops his way through the door and yells, "Here's Johnny!" I almost peed my pants.
"Schizophrenic people? Crazy people*? Doc, you're kidding, right?" I knew lots of crazy people back home in Los Angeles, some of them were my friends and they were the scariest people you could know. But the doctor reassured me that it was alright. (*I was probably the craziest one there.)
"There are no violent people in this ward. Don't worry. Just mind your own business and follow the rules and everything will be fine." He said as he wrote something down on a clipboard.
I was relieved, sort of. It was better than the worst case scenario that I had envisioned. In my mind I had feared something like you see in American prison movies. You know, the new guy comes into the prison and every single prisoner suddenly stops what they are doing and silently stare at the new prisoner. Some want to kick the new boys a*s, others want him to be their sex toy; still some others want him to join their skinhead gang... But first, of course, he has to prove his worth by killing somebody. You know how in America different gangs are always joining up with each other to fight it out for territory, even in prison? That's what I feared. But it was nothing like that. No one seemed to care that the door had opened and someone new came in. They were all preoccupied with whatever it was they were doing.
Besides the sound of the TV and people talking and smoking in the distance the only other movement was the cleaning lady. I surveyed the scene and thought, "Oh? This looks alright." Then, I looked to my right and there he was. Standing there was the guy who was going to make my life miserable in D-40. I would find out later that his name was Tanaka (not his real name).
Tanaka wasn't a particularly big guy. He just looked like your typical Japanese salaryman. He didn't wear any glasses and he didn't smile. Actually, he looked like he was scowling all the time or that he was unhappy. I thought I could tell by his face that he was plotting something. But what?... Or was I being paranoid?
"Kill! Kill! Kill!"
Tanaka stood there, expressionless and stared at me. He didn't move. He just stared. I tried to act like I didn't see him and, looked right through him. As the nurses were taking me to the shower area, I sneaked a look back over my shoulder and saw Tanaka following us and staring straight at me, stone faced and not blinking.
My heart and mood sank. Tanaka took a great interest in what I was doing. "I knew it! I just knew it!" I thought. What it was that I knew wasn't too clear to me at the time, but I was convinced that this Tanaka guy was going to make me very uncomfortable. Hell, he was making me extremely uncomfortable just by staring at me. I decided that I'd best ignore the guy... If I could.
D-40 wasn't an especially large area. There were about 40 inmates there, er, I mean 40 patients. It was a dormitory type of setup; the was a central nurse's station where patients were given roll call and daily drugs were administered to the patients. There was also a large living room area that could comfortably seat 25 men with a TV (that was constantly on) and that the patients sometimes fought over which channels to watch. If there ever was a Tokyo Giants baseball game on then the two 66-year-old guys got to watch that and no one argued with them.
That was a funny side note about those two old guys; they were like brothers. In the mornings or afternoon, they'd be fighting like little kids (they were like little kids as they had been interned since they were sixteen so they had no chance to grow mentally). Nearly everyday we could hear them fighting about this or that and really getting seemingly angry (well, as angry as old Japanese people do). But by the time the game was on air at night time, they'd be sitting side by side in front of the TV watching their favorite team, the Giants, play baseball... Just like kids. Just like brothers.
Besides the TV area there was a smoking area. This might strike westerners as unusual but, in Japan it is not. Whereas in the west, rehabilitation services might try to replace and addiction to alcohol or drugs with an addiction to god, Japan, a non-Christian nation, had no qualms about replacing drugs abuse with, well, drug abuse; namely tobacco.
I asked a doctor about this seeming contradiction once and he said to me, "Well, both smoking cigarettes and doing drugs are bad for your health. But smoking cigarettes won't land you in prison." Most definitely. "Can't argue with that logic," I thought.
Aside from the smoking areas and the living room was a small cafeteria. It was just like a school cafeteria excepting each patient had an assigned seat and it was forbidden for them to move their chairs. I had the scariest looking Yakuza guy sitting in front of me. I called him "Mr. Halloween." He terrified me. He had tattoos all over him and was extremely tall and lanky like a human skeleton. The other patients seemed to be afraid of him too. He'd bark out someone's name and they'd immediately hand him all their bread every morning and he'd take it all back to his room and eat it. By the end of breakfast, Mr. Halloween would have a mountain of white bread on his tray. It seemed strange that this guy could be eating a whole loaf of bread everyday yet be skinnier than a rail! He was even more frightening when he smiled as he had lost all of his teeth excepting two and I guess that was from huffing paint thinner.
He looked at me and then looked at my bread and smiled and gave out a grunt. "Oh, sure. Here you go!" I handed my two slices of bread to him too. Like I said, for one, he scared the hell out of me and; for two, I hate white bread. It wasn't even toasted! Yeech!
The guy wouldn't say much. Just bark out people's names. I never saw him hold a conversation but when he opened his mouth, I saw the terror of paint huffing. Huffing paint thinner will cause all your teeth to fall out. Even though everyone seemed afraid of him, he was very kind to me as, it has been my experience, that Yakuza in Japan are generally kind to foreigners. It might be the brotherly love of being an outsider in society. I was happy withe the situation and one time, when someone made a disparaging comment about foreigners at breakfast, he angrily turned around and barked at them and then he turned to me and smiled and, waving his hand, he said to me,
"Ok! Don't mind! Don't mind!" I could see those crevices and holes in his teeth. Couple that along with his brightly colored tattoos and entire bizarre atmosphere of the place and this guy looked like he just steeped out of the set of Tim Burton's Nightmare Before Christmas
Mr. Halloween really was a nice guy I'd find out later. But I'd wager a half a donut that the doctor's put me in front of him and asked him if he'd look out for me. I was too dopey and incoherent to understand what he said to the others, but he laid down the law and, when he did, the chickens ruffling in their coops suddenly grew silent. I was saved. No one was going to bully me. Thank god.
And, now, back to Tanaka. Like in real life, in this blog post too, I've been trying to avoid this guy, but, I can't. He is always hovering around somehere where you least expect him. After I had entered D-40 and quickly was allowed to shower and shave I went back out to D-40. There the nurses showed me my room. I didn't see Tanaka and felt a bit relieved.
The rooms were like a university dorm set-up. Four guys were in one room and there were all sorts of rules that we had to follow: Lights on at 6 am and everyone out of bed and to the cafeteria for breakfast. Lights out and everyone in bed at 8 pm (I had no problem with that!) Also, no one could enter someone else's room unless they were invited. There were many others rules but those were the three most important.
I put my stuff in my room and then laid down on the cot for a few moments. I tried to sleep but couldn't. I got up and decided that I'd explore D-40. That was a mistake. Because as soon as I walked into the public area, there was Tanaka waiting for me. He was upon on me like flies on a pile of sh*t.
I saw him as he hurredly came towards me. He reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a business card. He then bowed to me and handed me the card and said, "I am Tanaka something-or-other." He then went on to tell me that he had graduated from Meiji University a very prestigious university and he "proved" it to my by showing me where that was written on his card. Confused, I accepted the card and acted like I was checking my pajama pockets for business cards and said, "Uh? I don't have any cards." He assured me that this was quite alright.
This business card exchange business really had me wondering. "Who is this guy? Does he work here or something? Is he a doctor or a doctor's assistant?"
Tanaka then invited me over to the living room where there was a table to play chess. "Would you like to pass the time by playing chess?" He asked me. I didn't really want to play chess. I didn't want to do anything. I just wanted to sit and vegetate but here was this guy trying to be nice to me so I said I'd play.
He was a terrible chess player. It wasn't even a contest. I beat him within 15 moves or so. After I said, "Checkmate!" He sat there for a good several minutes motionless and studying the board. With suddenness and abruptness he wiped the pieces off the board and proclaimed. "Okay. You won that time. We will play again. And, after the next game, you will teach me English."
"What!?" I thought. "No, man. I can't teach english Mr. Tanaka. I have no energy for that." I said.
"Why can't you teach me English?" he demanded, "I played chess with you."
"Okay," I said in a flippant manner, "Here's today's English. Repeat after me: I don't want to teach English because I'm too f'ing tired."
Tanaka scowled at me and didn't repeat the sentence. Instead he said, "Why don't you teach me proper English?"
"Look," I said, "We're in a hospital, I'm sick. You're sick. I haven't the energy to teach you anything and we have no materials or anything. I'm not going to teach English. I am here to recover not get stressed out."
Tanaka would have none of it. He became more and more demanding. "I played chess with you and now you are not going to teach me English? You are an unfair person!"
This sort of conversation went over and over. For days he kept trying this tack. I wanted to say, "OK, Tanaka san, here's today's lesson: "Why don't you get stuffed?" and left it at that. But this guy was insistent that I teach him English and he even mentioned that he was going to complain to the nurses about me. He said he was going to complain that I took advantage of him.
Finally after going back and forth for about ten minutes with this nonsense, I said, "Look, Tanaka san, I taught English for a few years in Japan. I hate teaching English. I just got out of the cooler. The last thing I want to do is to teach English to people in drug rehab at an insane asylum! Forget about it."
That didn't work either. He scowled more and became more demanding. This guy was nuts! He said, "Teach me English and I will pay you!"
"How are you going to pay me? You don't have any money!"
I can pay you after I get out of this hospital. You have my business card, don't you?"
Arrrggghhhhh! It was like arguing with a wall. I got up and said, "Sorry" and then raced back to the safety of my room. Tanaka was hot on my heels but, as soon as I got to the room, he knew the rules: No entering unless you are invited.
This sort of thing went on my entire time in D-40 for the five days I was there. Tanaka was as persistent as hell! He just wouldn't leave me alone. Every third sentence out of his mouth was, "Please teach me English." Tanaka kept trying to get me to teach him and I kept saying, "No!"
I must have said, "No!" 50 times a day everyday.
He would pester me in the mornings, then give up for a few minutes but be right back at it soon after. He'd try all sorts of different ways to trick me (?) In the mornings he'd ask me if I wanted to play cards or watch TV or share a snack. I'd say, "You promise you are not going to ask me about teaching you English, right?" He'd promise.
But sure as the sun would rise in east every morning, as soon as what it was that we were doing was over, he'd turn to me and say, "Please teach me English" or "If you teach me English, I will give you my white bread at breakfast" or "Okay. I won't ask you to teach me English after we play chess. So why don't you teach me English first and then we'll play chess after that."
The guy was nuts and he was driving me nuts. It figured. I was in a mental hospital. I guess it comes with the territory.
Like I said, this went on a hundred times in the short week I was in D-40. I often got so frustrated and almost angry that I wanted to complain to the doctors or the nurses but judged against it. I figured that the doctors and nurses were watching us (they were) and judging to see how we handle ourselves. That I was able to put up with Tanaka asking me the same dumb question hundreds of times without strangling him or raising my voice probably showed them that I was okay to be transferred to another ward.
On the fifth day in D-40, I woke up and all the other patients were complaining to the doctors. Word gets around fast; I was being transferred and I didn't even know about it. The other patients complained and wanted to know why they had to stay in D-40 while the new gaijin was getting transferred out so soon. They thought it was unfair!
I was happy to be away from Tanaka and English Lessons for Lunatics Book One as soon as possible.
I was told that I was to be transferred to D-41. That was a much better ward because, get this, I was told that there were "Women there!"
Jeez! What good is that going to do me? I'm a drug addict trying to recover in an insane asylum and I should be happy that there are women in my new ward!? Well, whoop-de-doo... I could imagine it then: Wild Sex Party and Japanese Insane Asylum!
Sounds like classic Japanese cinema!
Part three of this series: Female Nurses, Schizophrenics and Jail Breaks! - Drug Rehab at Asia's Most Famous Hospital - Part 3
To read the first part, please refer to: Drug Rehab at Asia's Most Famous Hospital - Part 1 (Life in the Cooler) Upon Arrival to Rehab Everyone Must Detox in the Feared Cooler.)