Staying healthy in Japan

Features Health - March 11th, 1988

by Elyse M. Rogers


Teikyo University Hospital is a large, 1,120 bed hospital opened in 1971, almost in tandem with the university medical school that was started the same year. Although it is a bit far off the beaten track for Roppongi-centered foreign­ers, those who live in the outlying area around Ikebukuro might find it a convenient family medical center.

Often foreigners who live outside the central Tokyo area are more likely to stay in the country longer and have good Japanese language skills and those skills will come in handy at Teikyo. For despite the fact the hospital truly tries to be international and has a fine staff that I’m told speaks Eng­lish, the interview I had at the hospital was conducted exclusively in Japanese.

The hospital was started by Dr. Shobe Okinaga, and now is headed by his son, Shoichi Okinaga. Interestingly, Dr. Okinaga is a graduate of Tokyo University Medical School, so had enlisted the help of many of his Tokyo University classmates and colleagues when the hospital was started. As every­one known the fine reputation of Todai, it’s impressive to know there arc so many doc­tors from that top university on staff. As Teikyo University Medical School becomes older, of course, it will probably be staffed more by its own compitent graduates.

Teikyo is a hospital inter­ested in welcoming foreigners, perhaps largely because Dr. Okinaga is himself very inter­national. I understand he attends many international pro­fessional meetings and encourages his staff to do likewise.


Being a large, general hospi­tal (other hospitals profiled, for comparison, were Red Cross with 880 beds and St. Luke’s with 341), it has almost all departments and they are big and well staffed ones. There are three sections of Internal medicine, two divisions of surgery, orthopedics, ob­stetrics and gynecology, pediatrics etc. The Internal Medi­cine section is particularly noted for two Tokyo University professors — Dr. Yamanaka (who specializes in digestive problems), and Dr. Miyashita, whose specialty is cardiology and lung disorders.

In the field of brain surgery, Dr. Sanno, also from Tokyo University, is very prominent, so the department of neurology is important at Teikyo.

In addition to the clinical departments, support services are extremely important. They have such services or special departments in abundance, with a 12-bed hemodialysis unit (for artificial-kidney patients) a six-bed ICU (Intensive Care Unit) and the same size CCU (Cardi­ac Care Unit). They even have an HCU unit, one I’ve never heard of. “Similar to ICU,” I was told, but if any knowledgable readers can enlighten me as to the translation of the HCU initials, I’d be grateful.

The hospital has pretty much the standard equipment one would expect from a university hospital of its size, but the staff is especially proud of their new “whole body” CT scanner (computerized tomography) from General Electric. They also have two CT brain scan­ners from Hi­tachi.


There are two “twin” tower buildings, with one seven stories high and the other ten. In-patient rooms take up top floors, then come areas like surgery (operating rooms) and physical theapy. On the main floor is the clinic, very large as it needs to be since they see 2,000 to 2,400 patients per day. On the lower level, a huge laboratory stretches almost endlessly, as it must, to house the 70 lab technicians employed.

A special spacious entrance is reserved for the emergency room, with a roll-up door for the ambulance, and top facili­ties close by. The service is operated 24 hours a day, but the chance of getting English speaking help on the afternoon or night shift is pretty chancy.

The drive-up emergency en­trance is wide, private and easy to trace to the street from the emergency room doors, but a bit hard to find at the street. It’s labeled in Japanese only, so if you plan to use the hospital for emergencies, you might want to make a “dry run” with the family chariot just to make sure you know where and how to go.


Since the out-patient clinic functions as the private family physician in America (where you take the kids for runny noses and send grandma when her arthritis kicks up). it’s an important part of the hospital, one most visitors and patients see first.

As is to be expected in a large hospital, the clinic is a busy, noisy place. There is actually quite a bit of order, but for the newcomer it may seem overwhelming. The first step is to fill out a form in order to get a hospital card which allows you to go for consultation or treatment.

The forms are in Japanese, but I was told by the person­able Dr. Yasuda (from the first division of Internal Medi­cine) that there are forms in katakana for foreigners. That’s certainly kind of the hospital, but I am doubtful as to how many foreigners who cannot read hiragana or kanji would be skilled enough in katakana to be able to comprehend the form. The staff is ready and willing to help. I was told, and if you are as patient as they, you can probably work it out.

My advice, at least for first-timers, would be to take along a Japanese-speaking friend with you if at all possible. Once you get through the system, you’ll know how it works and it will be easier. (And you’ll have the hospital card which will elimi­nate the long first step.)

As in most hospital clinics, Teikyo requests that new clinic patients come in the morning, even though clinic hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. What is so unusual is that the afternoon clinic hours are open for all; unusual because even though many hospitals say they have clinic “all day,” in reality the morning is for the general “walk-in” patient and the after­noon hours are special clinic times pre-scheduled by the hospital.

I mentioned that new pa­tients are requested to come during morning hours, and this is another unusually nice fea­ture. It is truly a “request” and if new patients come in the afternoon they will not be turned away, according to the hospital official with whom I talked. This is a far cry from the rigid hours for new patients (which are inviolate) at most large Tokyo hospitals.

This friendly, flexible, try-to-accommodate-the-patient attitude pervades Teikyo Uni­versity Hospital, according to Dr. Yasuda. They are well known, he tells me, for their kind and helpful staff. Certain­ly, for ill folks and particu­larly for foreigners who often feel frightened when they are sick in a strange culture, that attitude is most welcome.

About 20 foreign patients are treated at the clinic every week, according to Dr. Yasuda. This is a very small percent of the 2,000-2,400 patients seen daily. As far as inpatients are concerned, about two or three foreigners are generally in the daily hospital census. Although the hospital functions along very Japanese lines, of course, they do accommodate the foreign inpatient by provid­ing a Western menu, if re­quested, at no extra charge.

Although there are no ap­pointments as such in the out­patient department (it’s on a walk-in, first-come, first-served basis) Dr. Yasuda suggested foreigners call in advance and say they will be coming and will need a doctor who speaks English. (The phone request would best be made in Japan­ese by a Japanese secretary, associate or friend.) That way they’ll be more able to ac­commodate that need.


The hospital is located in Itabashi-ku, (not to be confused with Iidabashi on the Tozai or Yurakucho Subway Lines) out side of Ikebukuro. The easiest way to get there is to take the train to Ikebukuro and transfer to  the Akabane  line and go two  stations to Jujo. From there, it’s a short taxi ride to the hospital.  (There’s a taxi stand in front of the out-patient clinic for returning to the station.) For more complete directions, see the map.

Teikyo University Hospital, 2-11-1 Kaga, Itabashi-ku, Tokyo 173. Phone 964-1211.