A Spot of Trouble


Words by Ava Grauls

Japan has turned me into one giant pimple. I’ve got so many on my face that I believe some of them have created house shares and are living next to each other, flat shares living on top of each other and duplexing it big time all over my money maker. My face is the property ladder of pimple dreams, where any pimple can make it big time and intend to remain for an indefinite period.

So how did Japan turn my face into pizza? Who knows – if I did, would I really be ranting in such a fanatical way? All I know is I’ve heard numerous stories from previous JETs who left because their allergies got the better of them. Poor ickle Jetty-wetty, I thought back then. HA! Jokes on me. This is hard core allergy, where the only other allergy that is equally unfriendly is an allergy to English. Going to a doctor and explaining things in medical terms with the Japanese fluency of a rock, is not particularly helpful. Not all doctors here are fluent with English. To be fair, doctors have enough on their plate than to worry about having to communicate in English. And being good at medicine doesn’t necessarily mean you have a good aptitude for languages.

So the fun begins when I go to a nameless doctor in my neighbourhood. I only know he was there because the chemist told me every time I snotted on their counter and cried for painkillers like a giant baby.

I was finally convinced to go to a doctor on the advice of my teacher who said all doctors are born amazing and multilingual. Unfortunately this is not true.

After an extended wait in a very nice, cheery, plastic-flower room with a large screen TV (I was hooked as I still don’t have a TV), they called me into his little room.

He looked obviously unsettled. He was a man in the ever-present white, with a large bland face and a customary sense of kindness in his eyes. The kindness thing kinda goes with the gig – it may not be real but you need to look sympathetic to keep your patients coming back for more.

On my first visit I had to own up to all my crimes. How much do I smoke? How much do I drink? How crazy is my sex life? I answered simply, no, quite a lot and what’s a ‘sex life’?

He was impressed with my drinking skills. To be honest, two pints of beer and some sake really isn’t much for a weekend out in London. However, his eyes bulged with, perhaps, disapproval? Where had the kindness gone?

So I tried to move it swiftly on to the real problem at hand. My face. Can you make the giant pimple go away?

He asked me if what I was eating was causing it. What, like, food? I do tend to eat food from time to time; it’s a nasty habit I can’t break. Oh, what, specific food? Well, if I knew that, I wouldn’t be here, would I? So after backing into a dead end with me he looked tiredly down at his notes.

I tried to up the anti, I didn’t want him to give up on me too soon just because I talk like a moron in Japanese. I couldn’t go on sharing my life with THE PIMPLE!

I told him I did loads of exercise, tried different soaps, offered a sacrifice to the god of acne and still they come-a marching onto my pores.

He looked exasperated and told me nicely to go away. He said go to Dr Tanaka (name changed for privacy reasons), she does skin.

Skin! Great, I thought, that’ll do. Instead of the disapproving granddad, I’ll go to a lady skin expert, perfect.

I managed to find her office easily with the help of an old lady I have befriended in my town. (When I say befriended, we literally only say ‘hello’ to each other when we see each other. That’s it. She has a bicycle sometimes. Sometimes I have a bicycle too. Sometimes she waves, sometimes I wave. My social commitment to this town speaks volumes.)

So anyway, sitting in Tanaka’s reception, there is more paperwork, shuffling and awkward eyes when I don’t understand what is being said. Finally I get to see the doctor. Which is good because I notice some people give me side glances, and I start getting paranoid about my pimple head. STOP LOOKING AT MY PIMPLE HEAD, the voice inside screams, and I worry about whether anyone else can hear the weird voice.

I sit in front of a middle-aged, short, square lady with a neat bob. Her face is taking on a slight manliness in her older age. Perhaps this happens to all women who have menopause? Who knows, but she was distinctly manly.

She quickly glanced at my skin and proclaimed in a god-almighty moment that could only equal the Life of Brian … that I had acne. I hate to say no shit Sherlock…but… she discovered both the Americas, the cure for cancer, and that I had acne. Good for her and her genius brain powers of divination.

She then showed me some fabulously ugly creatures that were living on my face, on a set of computer images for idiots who don’t know what acne is, even taking time to point out their feet. I am an acne idiot, so this was enlightening. I could imagine little booties being put on these poor little mite’s feet that were living on my face, perhaps in the cold stark conditions of ABSOLUTE CLEANLINESS!

She hadn’t tested or even looked much at my face. (Hey there wasn’t much to look at, but to be fair I was paying her to do so) Maybe my giant pimple was beaming messages I was not privy to? She could speak both English and pimple. Good for her, cos I had no idea where she was getting her info on my skin from.

But she was adamant that I had acne and that’s why it itched. She told me to wash my face four times.

Four times?

Hang on, I thought, four times a day or four times in one go? That’s a bit much, isn’t it?

I asked her again, four times?

She answered by jumping up and rubbing soap on her cheek then rinsing and shouting loudly, FOUR TIMES! LIKE THIS! Then she rubbed her face again with soap. Splashing loudly with water and speaking to me in a big loud slow voice, in case my pimple brain couldn’t understand.

Yes, thank you lady. I sheepishly agreed with everything she said, so she would return to her seat and spare me the strange looks I was getting from the foyer. Finally she stopped soaping up and sat down. I kept on thinking, damn that’s gonna dry out her skin now.

Then her assisted started dabbing my face with ointment. Now I had tried ointment before. That was, I had tried toothpaste. And I don’t think toothpaste actually works. I now think toothpaste is much better employed in the mouth and should stay off the face. Since we’re on the topic, I have also brushed my teeth with Savlon, which I have discovered is best used for feet and not in the mouth.

But this was no Savlon or toothpaste, so it must be decent. I managed to get the fancy ointment from her and advice that I should switch back to my American diet. Right. American. What do Americans eat cos I gotta start eating like that. It’s a pity I never lived there, but maybe I should eat what I think an American stereotype would eat. Would that be a middle-American stereotype, a West coast, South coast or an East coast stereotype? There’s a whole lot a difference between stereotypical fried chicken, a pastrami deli sandwich with weird grass juice or shedloads of coffee. Christ, now I was really confused. Can’t I just eat like a South African? Or even a British? Now I know stereotypical British is nothing to write home about but at least it’s something I know.

America? Too difficult. So I chose to cut back on the rice. Maybe she meant that.

After three months of washing my face like I had OCD, eating a small farm’s worth of veggies and fruit, and exercising like a maniac, I still had a giant pimple head.

I had even started taking all manner of pills and changing my diet but still no change. I was feeling very hungry now as most starch had been cut from my diet, being that wheat is a cause of pimples…. (So is sugar, and nuts, and dairy, and eggs, but you can eat eggs on the candida diet, but you can’t eat beef, but you can eat yoghurt, but yoghurt may cause allergies…. AAAAAAAGH!) Being fed up with these rubbish diets that got me nothing but bloody confused, I decided to brace myself for the good old doctor again.

On seeing me the second time, granddad doctor realised that the skin doctor may not have been as helpful.

I asked directly in my pitiful Japanese for a food allergy test. I did have to say a number of times TA BE MO NO, because they seemed to think I didn’t want a food allergy test.

In English the conversation went as follows:

“I want a food allergy test.”


“Yep, food.”

A moment later



“Just food?”

“Yep, just food.”

Sitting next to the doctor he showed me many other tests – dust, animals, pollen, bugs … and once again I said:


Finally we got somewhere.

He looked at my face and recognised me as the annoying alcoholic foreigner that had recently visited. After finding out why I was there he said, “Yes, your skin is looking much worse.”

Thanks for that. Really. I wouldn’t know, as I haven’t touched or seen my skin. We are not on talking terms at the moment. But it was nice to see he was in agreement with me about the allergy and the skin. It only took a number of months and frustrating measures but finally, I managed to get the allergy test I had been waiting for. I don’t want to leave Japan and only remember my time as a giant pimple.

So hopefully next week I will find out what has been supplying my facial tenants with real estate. And then we can start the eviction process. HA HA HA!