This article is a web original
If you live in Japan for long enough, and you are one whose heartstrings are easily tugged by hungry little street cats, you, willingly or not, may come into the possession of one such street cat. And if said street cat happens to be fully “intact,” you may be compelled to have that cat spayed or neutered, as Bob Barker’s famous words implore.
But be forewarned, for Japanese healthcare—human and animal alike—has some funny little “quirks” for which you should prepare yourself.
Concrete was one of those hungry little street cats that approached me during a bike ride one day. He was extremely skinny, excessively friendly, and he had about the biggest balls I’d ever seen on a cat. Fortunately for him, Concrete was just sad-looking enough that I returned two days later by car, scooped him up, and whisked him home in spite of my apartment’s no-pets rule.
Like the responsible pet owner that I aspire to be, I promptly made an appointment to have Concrete neutered, which was already quite the task with my limited Japanese ability. I brought him in for the blood test, which would determine if he was healthy enough to undergo the surgery. Side-note: Concrete had been diagnosed with Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis (FVR), which most visibly affected his conjunctiva, making one of his eyes look permanently murky.
After waiting 30 minutes for the blood test results, the veterinarian, with the help of his English-speaking son over the phone, assured me with utmost confidence that—good news! They can operate on his eye.
“Oh, okay,” I said, “but you can neuter him too, right?” You know, the very thing I’d brought him in for.
There was a pause on the other end of the phone as the vet’s son struggled to understand that very singular word. “What?” The son replied tentatively.
“Neuter. You can neuter him, right?” I hurriedly Googled the word in Japanese on my phone. “Kyosei?”
“Ah,” the vet said aloud like an after-thought, “Castration, ne.”
There was a moment I was convinced something might have gotten lost in translation, that the next day I was going to receive a cat with two clear eyes but also two in-tact testicles.
Well my friends, I stand to assure you with absolute certainty that the following day I, in fact, received a cat with one still-murky eye and zero testicles. And how do I know this with such steely confidence?
I know because, upon my return to the vet clinic, I was rather enthusiastically beckoned into one of the examination rooms, lights turned off, with a laptop displaying a slew of pictures and videos of the surgical procedure—complete with a 10-second video clip of the exact moment that they cut the testicles off from the ballsack.
And I, in an odd mix of relief, horror, and bewilderment, grasped my face and howled, “Wow!!”
It gets better. After showing me that incredible slideshow, they kindly presented me with a clear file containing some paperwork and a precious little postcard-sized keepsake photo collage to remember this moment by.
As the shock wore off, all I could think was: Boy, I know what I’m doing for Christmas cards this year.
After sharing my experience with other expats, I came to find out that this is fairly par for the course in Japanese healthcare. It even happens in human healthcare, as some people who’d undergone surgeries here can attest. My account is also not the most extreme by far, as a friend of mine recalled that her vet presented her with her cat’s literal testicles packaged in a nice little baggy!
Apparently different vet clinics have different practices, and some (boring) vets might not do these things at all. You never know what you’re going to get, so be sure to dust that open space on your shelf for whatever kind offering your vet may impart!
The author of this article wishes to remain anonymous on the off-chance that their landlord catches wind of it.