The Last Wish of a Woman Who Survived The Battle of Okinawa

21 Jun

ハイビスカス“I have one regret,” said Tokiko one day.

“I wish I had written down my story. ”

I was surprised to hear that, because Tokiko, a survivor of The Battle of Okinawa, had lived her life without telling her past even to her son.

I met Tokiko in the summer of 2009. At 79 she suffered from heart disease and was recently diagnosed with depression. When she suddenly stopped eating and talking to everyone including her family, she was admitted to hospice care. It seemed that Tokiko had lost interest in everything, and no one knew why.

A hospice nurse referred her to music therapy, hoping that it would help ease her depression. The nurse also knew that I, too, was Japanese. Over the course of therapy that lasted for 3 months Tokiko revealed her past to me in a way I had never imagined.

While I sang Japanese folk songs such as “Hamabe no uta,” she listened with a calm expression on her face, but she was hiding a painful past.

“My life was complicated. I was…I was the only one who survived the war.”

She looked at me with her piercing eyes.

Through musical therapy I learned that her father and younger brother were killed in Okinawa, and that her sister was killed in the Nagoya raid. At 15 Tokiko became an orphan.

After the war she fell in love with an American soldier, even though she initially had anger toward Americans. She got married and moved to the US. The marriage brought her the happiness she had longed for, but her husband was sent to Vietnam twice, and by the time he came back he was a “different man.” He became alcoholic.

Tokiko’s life was affected by wars, yet she never complained or expressed anger toward anyone. The only thing that haunted her was a question: Why did I survive?

By the time she had finished her story, her condition began to improve. She started eating again and talking to people. In the beginning of fall she was removed from hospice care.

On our last session we sang “Hamabe no uta” together. She liked the song very much, since it reminded her of Okinawa. Even though it was the place where unimaginable horror had taken place, it remained a special place in her heart. The song brought back to her memories of the blue sky and the wide, beautiful ocean.

“I wish I had written down my story. ”

She said when the song ended.

“I haven’t told my story to people, because I didn’t think anyone would want to know it. But I’ve realized that it is important to share it.”

I promised her that I’d write her story one day. More than 5 years later I’ve written her story in my book, “Last Song.”

June 23 marks the 70th anniversary of the end of The Battle of Okinawa. I wonder what comes to your mind on this day. As for me, I’ll be remembering Tokiko and all those who perished in Okinawa.

“Not to trasmit an experience is to betray it.” ~Elie Wiesel

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

2 May
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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.

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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.

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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.

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