Staying healthy in Japan

Features Health - November 4th, 1988

by Elyse M. Rogers

TOKYO WOMEN’S MEDICAL COLLEGE HOSPITAL

It’s always a pleasure to bring you information about a new hospital. Not that the Tokyo Women’s Medical College Hospital is new in existence, but it is a facility that is not well known to many foreign­ers. On my recent visit to Tokyo Jyoshi Ika Daigaku Byoin (the Japanese name), I was told that only about five for­eigners a day use the out­patient department (which serves more than 2,000 daily).

Perhaps the problem is that it’s a bit off the beaten track for foreigners who reside in central Tokyo, but then so are some of the other hospitals I profile. And it’s also pretty “Japanese” in ambience and in language, but then many cur­rent residents speak Japanese or have Japanese friends or spouses to help them. At any rate, it is a fine facility and one worth knowing about. This is particularly true for those who have problems relating to the fields of diabetes, cardiolo­gy and gastroenterology.

I want to thank Dr. Juro Wada for introducing me to Dr. Masao Fujita, who is Professor and Chairman of the Department of Anesthesiology at Tokyo Women’s Medical College Hospital. Dr. Fujita spent five years in the states, and speaks excellent English, and was kind enough to talk with me about the hospital and give me a lour of the facilities.

HISTORY OF THE HOSPITAL

You readers know that I always find the history of hospitals and medical schools fascinating, but in this case, I’ll bet that all of you will be as intrigued as I. I mean a women’s medical school in the heart of macho country? And one that was started in 1900? Omoshiroi, ne? So, let me ex­plain further.

Yayoi (Washiyaina) Yoshioka, the founder of the school, was born in Shizuoka Prefecture in 1871. She was the second daughter of a physician who had studied Dutch medi­cine. At the age of 18, Miss Washiyama entered Saisei-Gakusha medical school to become a doctor. You might think that any school that was enlightened enough to accept female students would have a great atmosphere for the medically dedicated young lady, but such was not the case.

Lest you think I’m a bit prejudiced, being female my­self, let me quote from the brochure I received: “Although the school was co-educational in the sense that it had some female students, the pernicious traditional attitudes making for male arrogance and female subjection were rampant in the school and it was an undertaking of no mean order for a girl to study alongside so many male students in such an environment.”

Yappari. Despite the obvious difficulties, young Yayoi did persevere and qualified as a doctor in 1893. She intended to go to Germany to continue her medical studies, so she enrolled in the Shisei Institute in Hongo, which was a Ger­man-language institute. And that changed her life, because she met and married the head of the institute. She never did go to Germany, but in 1900 the Yoshiokas teamed up to start the Tokyo Women’s Medical School. At that time, she was the ripe old age of 29.

You might be interested to know the reason for her starting the college — the old Saisei Medical School “…had re­cently ceased to admit wom­en students, the result of moral prob­lems that were to a great ex­tent the product of the at­titudes and situations already described…” So, without her new school women would have had nowhere to go to pursue a medical career.

But her troubles weren’t over. Starting the college was no “piece of cake” either. At first they had only four stu­dents and the classes were taught in one room in the Yoshiokas’ home. In addition to financial problems, public opinion was against woman doctors and several times the college almost went under. But, the Yoshiokas persevered and in 1912 the status of To­kyo Women’s Medical Professional School was firmly established.

The grand dame died at the age of 89, but currently her son. Hiroto Yoshioka, M.D., is chairman of the board of trustees, and the medical school remains the only all female medical school for undergraduates of the some 80 medical schools in Japan.

PRESENT FACILITY

The hospital, like so many large institutions, is not housed in one building. Rather there are a cluster of buildings that together make up the com­plex.

The main hospital building was built in 1978. with the wings being completed in 1980. It remains the core of the hospital, with the east wing housing the emergency depart­ment. (Open 24 hours a day, by the way, and available to all.) Next to the main build­ing is the oldest building, which still acts as an exten­sion of the hospital. There are several other major buildings as follows: 1) A psychiatric hospital, 2) The Heart Insti­tute of Japan, 3) the Institute of Gastroenterology, 4) the Neurological Institute, and 5) A new building which has a dual role—half houses the Diabetic Center, and half the Memorial Auditorium. That new building was completed last year and has a beautiful central courtyard with a foun­tain in the middle.

The whole hospital complex is so large that a main street runs right down the middle with buildings on both sides and a bus terminal in the mid­dle. (Bus #74 takes you right to Shinjuku Station.)

HOSPITAL STATISTICS

Besides having buildings galore, (and there are more that I haven’t mentioned—a total of 27 buildings in the area are connected with the college), the hospital and related institutes have lots of great facilities. The main hospital has 768 beds; the cardiac institute has 230, and the gastroenterology unit has 230, and neurology 110. That all comes to a grand total of about 1,200, which is a pretty good size facility. To service the inpatients and those 2,000/ day outpatients I mentioned, there are 1,316 doctors, (in­cludes students and residents), 1,739 nurses and 1,363 admin­istrative personnel.

The hospital is a general hospital in that it covers all specialties, and has most all the equipment we expect in a large university hospital, in­cluding CT scans, a large laboratory and a physical therapy department. It even has that new, expensive, non­invasive X-ray type machine called the MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) which uses a magnetic field rather than conventional X-rays for diagnosing internal conditions.

INSTITUTES & CENTERS

Since the special institutes and centers of the hospital are huge institutions in their own right, it’s not possible to go into detail about them here. Hut let me mention a bit about a few of them.

  • The Heart Institute of Japan. The institute was start­ed in 1955, and was the first institute in Japan to direct re­search and treatment exclusive­ly to cardiovascular disease. It’s probably best known for its work in the field of heart surgery under the direction of the late Professor Shigeru Sakakibara who designed spe­cial equipment to perform by­pass surgery. I do have three English-speaking doctors’ names for you in this area, which could be helpful. Dr. M. Kusumoto is a woman cardiologist who studied in Canada for two or three years; Dr. M. Nakazawa is a pediatric cardiologist (takes care of children with cardiac problems); and Dr. M. Endo is a cardiac surgeon.
  • Diabetes Center. This was also the first center of its kind in Japan, and even today is unique in its size and scope. In addition it has a spanking new building to house it, which makes it most attractive. Many foreigners are now coming to Japan with this condition or with children with diabetes, so it’s a good facility to know about.
  • Institute of Gastroentero­logy. This was established in 1965 and now has more than 120 physicians, surgeons and radiologists working together. With cancer of the stomach still a leading cause of cancer deaths in Japan, this center will continue to be an im­portant one.
  • Institute of Geriatrics and the Institute of Rheumatology. This medical college seems in­tent on specializing in condi­tions that other hospitals for­get. Although geriatrics (the medical specialty regarding old people) is coming of age in Japan (no pun intended), this institute was established as far back as 1970. With Japan’s rapidly aging population, this will be an important part of future medicine here.

Regarding rheumatology, this has been a major problem in the U.S., but a minor one in Japan; however it is on the increase with (you probably guessed it) the more Western diet and lifestyle that the Japa­nese are now embracing.

OBSTETRICS

This is a department with 42 beds and that all-important NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) for babies born needing special care. Fathers aren’t allowed in the delivery room as yet, but breast feeding is encouraged and the whole at­titude is cheerful and pleasant. Drs. H. Nishida and M. Nakabayashi speak English (Dr. Nakabayashi studied in the U.S.)

SPECIAL FEATURES

When I asked Dr. Fujita what he thought made his hospital “special,” he didn’t have to think long before answering: “Our doctors and medical school teachers don’t come from just one school” he told me. “We get the best people from all different hos­pitals  and medical schools.” This is indeed unusual in Japan, since most university hospitals are rather insular places where their own faculty and students prevail. This “blending,” he feels, leads to more cooperation between de­partments and disciplines.

LOCATION

The hospital complex is list­ed on most Tokyo maps and is particularly easy to find because it’s just up the street from Fuji Television. And there arc signs all over the place (when you get close) hawking that station. If you can read katakana you’re in clover, but even just asking “Fuji Telebi” in your best Japanese accent to any passer­by will get you a finger point in the right direction. The most direct route to the hospital is via the Toei Shinjuku subway line to Akebonobashi but that subway line is a bit difficult to navigate, particularly if you’re new, (and speak or read no Japanese) so you might better get to Shinjuku or Yotsuya and then take a taxi from there.

Tokyo Women’s Medical College, 8-1 Kawada-cho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo 162. Phone 353-8111.