The Nursing Home in Japan Where You Can Live With Your Pets

2 May

A resident and a dog in Sakura no Yamashina

The other day I visited a nursing home called “Sakura no Yamashina” for a music therapy session.  It’s located in a quiet part of Yokosuka city in Kanagawa prefecture surrounded by the beautiful bay and endless hills.  From outside this small nursing home looked nothing unusual, but as soon as I walked in the back door I saw something I had never seen before -two dogs with a backpack walking down the hallway.

I asked a member of the staff what the dogs were doing.  She said,

“Their job is to get the morning newspaper and deliver it to our residents.”

She smiled and added, “But they can’t do it by themselves yet.”

These dogs are among the 6 dogs that live at Sakura no Yamashina; some have been rescued from the shelters, while others have come to live with their owners.

The facility has a dog unit for the residents who want to live with dogs and a cat unit for those who want to live with cats.  They also have floors with no animal for the residents who prefer that.

I found my new patient, Mr. I. in the cat unit.  In his 80’s, he was a small statue of a man, suffering from dementia.  His love for cats was apparent from his room – a cat printed blanket, a cat printed cushion, and even a picture of himself with a cat.

When I began singing Japanese folk songs he started to cry and said that they reminded him of “good times” from his childhood.  And then he sang songs with me. Even though his short term memory was not good due to his dementia, he was able to recall the lyrics of the old tunes.  During the session I learned that he liked music very much, and that his cat on the picture had died some time ago.


When I was working at hospice in the U.S for over 10 years, I visited countless nursing homes. Since returning home to Japan 2 years ago, I’ve visited several of them here.  It is not uncommon to have a dog or two living in a nursing home in either country, but I’ve never seen one that has so many animals like Sakura no Yamashina or one that allows their residents to move in with their pets.

Over the years I’ve seen many patients who are concerned about what would happen to their pets when they move to a facility or when they die. Since pets are members of their family, this is an important issue for many people.

In Sakura no Yamashina animals continue to live there even after their owners’ death, so the residents have peace of mind knowing their pets will be taken care of.


After the music therapy session I took Mr. I out to the living room area where several cats were roaming around.  One of them jumped onto his lap, which gave him a big smile. He petted the orange cat gently as it closed it’s eyes.

Being with cats has always been a part of Mr. I’s life, and so has listening to music. Creating an environment where “normal things” take place is important for facilities, because it is this sense of normalcy that can increase quality of life in people.

“This is a kind of a nursing home I ‘d like to live when I get old,” I thought to myself, as I said good bye to Mr. I and the cats.

【Announcing Radio Drama】”Music Therapist”

23 Apr

Scprit5I’m  happy to announce that the NHK is making a radio drama called “Music Therapist,” based on my book, “Last Song~Melodies of Love and Hope at the End of Life.”

NHK is Japan’s national public broadcasting organization. The show will be aired on May 23.

“Last Song” tells the stories of my patients and their families I encountered while working at hospice in the U.S.  In it I attempted to capture the essence of music therapy – using music within the relationship between the therapist and the client.

Since any relationship is a two way street, it wasn’t just the lives of my clients that were affected through therapy; my life was often transformed through meeting them as well.

I’m humbled by the fact that the NHK has found my book interesting and the stories important enough to make it into a radio drama. An actress will play my part, but I’ll be singing in it.

Music therapy is not well known in Japan, and even those who have heard of it often don’t know that there is a profession called a “music therapist.”

I hope that this show will help increase awareness of music therapy in Japan and make it available to more people in the future.


【Announcing My New Book】 “LAST SONG”

7 Nov

“LAST SONG – Melodies of Love and Hope at the End of Life”

(POPLAR Publishing Co., Ltd.)

By Yumiko Sato

12/2/2014 (Release Date)


Book Designer: Masato Takayanagi

Illustrator: Shuku Nishi

I’m finally ready  to tell you what I’ve been working on since this spring: I’ve been writing my first book called “LAST SONG – Melodies of Love and Hope at the End of Life.”

It’ll be published in Japanese on December 2, 2014.

This is the reason I haven’t been able to write for this blog for a while.

In the past 10 years I worked at hospice in Ohio as a board certified music therapist. Upon returning home to Japan last year, I began wiring about my work in the blog, “Yumiko Sato Music Therapy” in both English and Japanese.  Since then, I’ve received many comments and questions, especially from the Japanese people.

“What is music therapy, anyway?”

“What is it like to work at hospice?”

“What’s grief?”

“What do you do exactly as a hospice music therapist?”

As it turns out, music therapy and end of life care are not as recognized in Japan as they are in the U.S.  So I’ve written several articles to answer these questions, but I felt it was difficult to explore them as blog posts.

The reason is that music therapy takes place within the therapeutic relationship between the therapist and the client.  The rapport is the most important aspect of any therapy, including music therapy.  In order to help people understand that, I felt it was necessary to tell true stories of patients and their families and how I was affected by them.

“LAST SONG” tells stories that couldn’t be fully explored as blog posts and those I could not write for many years because it was too personal. I wrote about a few patients and families who had a close tie to Japan; a Japanese American patient and a Japanese lady who moved to the U.S after the war. In these cases my nationality affected my interactions with them, which I explored in the book.

Dying people can tell you the most interesting things, if you really listen to them: Some live a fulfilled life, while others die with regret.  Some die, surrounded by love, while others die with anger.

No matter what their stories are, I’ve learned a lot from them.

My hope is to share the power of music and give people the opportunity to think about life and death through their stories.

The book is available only in Japanese right now, but I hope to be able to translate it into English so that I can share it with you all.

Please check out  “Last Song Official Facebook Page” where I will write both in English and Japanese about the book including how this project started, the difficulty I faced through the process, and the abstract of the stories.  My editor will also share his messages.

Thank you so much for following this blog and supporting my work.




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