BLISS #5 Hospice Music Therapy in Japan

5 Jun

In this episode of BLISS I speak with Hisako Nakayama, a music therapist, in Hokkaido, Japan.  She has been working at hospices for 15 years and advocating for music therapy through a NPO organization called “Wa Harmony”.  Her work has been featured in the NHK news this year.

In the interview Nakayama talks about many topics including the following:

  • She was a pianist and a piano teacher for many years before becoming a music therapist. After her grandmother died at home, she became interested in hospice work.
  • She feels that her relationship with music has changed dramatically since she became a music therapist.
  • In Japan hospice care is available only for people with cancer and AIDS.  She believes it should be available for people with other illnesses including ALS.
  • In recent years more people who have graduated from university with a degree in music are interested in music therapy, because they can’t make a living as music teachers. “That’s not a good reason to want to become a music therapist,” said Nakayama.
  • As a former professor of music therapy in Sapporo Ōtani University, she has seen her former students give up on a career in music therapy. It’s very difficult to practice music therapy in Japan, because it’s not a established profession.
  • What’s important in hospice work is empathy. “My motto is ‘If I were you.’ I want to try to put myself in your situation and imagine what it is like to be you,” she says.

You can listen to the episode here.




BLISS #4 Hope for Cancer Patients

15 May

There are only about 1000 oncologists in Japan (while there are over 14,000 of them in the U.S), and Noriyuki Katsumata, M.D. is one of them.  He is the professor of the department of medical oncology at Nippon Medical School.

Several years ago, a book written by a famous radiologist named Makoto Kondo became a best seller. His main message was to do “nothing” if you’re diagnosed with cancer, regardless of the type or stage of the cancer or the patient’s age:  no surgery, no radiation, no chemotherapy. His extreme view resonated with so many people in Japan who already had deep doubts about modern cancer treatment.  Since then, Kondo has written a number of bestsellers on the same topic.

This has presented a new challenge for oncologists like Katsumata. He often sees patients who followed Kondo’s advice and did nothing, and as a result their cancer has spread. By this time patients are remorseful about believing Kondo’s advice, but it’s too late to undo the damage.

“I don’t want to see any more patients in this situation. That’s why I’m speaking out about it,” said Katsumata. He has written books to explain how proper cancer treatment works, and why Kondo’s assertion is wrong and unethical.

Katsumata is also deeply concerned about what he calls the “terminal cancer business” widely spread in Japan where it’s legal for doctors to provide unapproved treatment to patients.

“For instance, if I tell you that a glass of water may cure your cancer and sell it to you for $10,000, I won’t get arrested or lose my license. If this was in the U.S, I’d be arrested,” said Katsumata.

Some doctors are taking advantage of patients with terminal illnesses who are desperate for a cure. Yet, some claim that these doctors are giving patients hope, and that it doesn’t hurt to try a “treatment” if it has a potential to cure an illness.

“The main problem here is that these doctors are not telling patients the truth. If they’re saying that these are non-approved treatments without evidence, that’s one thing. But they’re not saying that,” Katsumata said.

“Another problem is that they’re charging patients a huge amount of money. Treatments that have not been approved should be provided as a clinical trial, and it should be offered for free for participants.”

Katsumata is also a supporter of music therapy. He is a singer songwriter, a guitarist, and a pianist. In the Bliss interview, he sings a song he composed with his patient. The song is about finding joy and hope in small things (The song starts at 44:08).

“Working in medicine is tough. You see so many things that are not normal. But music brings me back to myself. When playing music I feel like a normal person again,” his voice softened as he talked about his love for music.

You can listen to the episode here.

BLISS #3 Taking Care of Aging Parents in Japan

24 Apr

Nearly 100,000 people are leaving the workforce each year to take care of their sick families in Japan. This phenomenon is called Kaigo Rishoku (介護離職): Kaigo (介護) means care-giving, and Rishoku (離職) means leaving a job. Jun Kawauchi, a social worker and a kaigo consultant, thinks that the actual number is higher than reported, and that the number will continue to rise as Japan faces a rapidly aging population. In order to change this alarming trend, Kawauchi visits companies and speaks to workers about caring for their parents, advocating not to quit their jobs for it.

He offers the following reasons:

  1.  If you quit your job for care-giving, it’ll be difficult to re-enter the workforce after it’s done.
  2.  Caring for your parents can cost money, so if you quit your job and lose income, it may become difficult to afford the care your parents need.
  3.  Quitting your job and devoting your life to care for your parents may satisfy your own needs, but it may become a burden on your parents.

Another reason Kawauchi advocates this is to prevent elderly abuse by the family members.  As a professional caregiver he has seen many cases where family abused their loved ones. Such incidents are often caused by frustrations and stress from intense care-giving experiences. In recent years such incidents have been reported more and more in the news. Kawauchi wants to change the culture of care-giving in Japan, where there is still a deep sense of responsibility and a social pressure to take care of one’s parents.

In the past Kawauchi worked for a consultation firm, and his job was to fire people in companies. “I thought making lots of money was important back then, but eventually I began to question why I was doing that,” he says. “Looking at the picture of myself taken at that time I look like a person who will never smile again.”

Yet he reflects that his experience as a consultant is helping his work today. He can understand what it’s like to work for companies in Japan and talk to people openly about the nature of care-giving.

What does it mean to love and appreciate your parents? He wants all of us to ask it again. Is giving up your job and your career what your parents want? Is sacrificing your life for care-giving something you’d want your children to do for you?

Kawauchi believes that letting professionals care for your parents is better than doing it yourself, because they know how to care for the sick much better than you ever will. And as a family member you could still be a part of your parents’ lives and contribute to their care by doing things such as sharing time and memories with them.

“I can empathize with people who abuse their loved ones. I can also empathize with those who are abused. When I saw this happening in patients’ homes, I felt helpless and couldn’t do anything. This is why I’m doing this work now,” he said.

His straight forward and honest messages are resonating with the public. He recently published a new book.

You can listen to my podcast here or on iTunes.

For Android users you can find BLISS on CastBox.



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