Home to nine million people, there exists a surprising note of calm throughout Tokyo — often, in front of a small, tree covered shrine or an expansive pond of lilies, one can imagine the city was meant for them alone. This placidity invokes reminiscence of a quiet forest, which, with nature cultivated throughout the city, can be felt even amidst one of the world’s largest metropolises.
Though reflective, Japan also delights the lover of bright lights, great food, and adventure, with a near infinite array of shops, restaurants, and activities to pique the interest of almost any sensibility. At Tokyo’s “Ramen Street” one can find unending variety of hand-crafted noodles, including vegan ramen, and many incarnations of curry and broth. In Shinjuku, one finds the bustling city life of shops, bright lights, and attractions such as the Samurai Museum; and in Ginza, one finds perhaps unparalleled elegance and luxury. These diverse manifestations of physical structure, culture, and organization reflect, and are reflected by, the personalities of the people in this bustling city.
At Teikyo University, we had the distinct privilege of meeting instructors and fellow students who personified the exemplary characteristics of broad perspective, good spirit, and thoughtful consideration of others intrinsic to Japanese culture, thus enhancing an already enriching land.
Paramount for life in such a busy place is the ubiquity of seamless, user-friendly design, and in Tokyo these approaches are on clear display. Trains arrive to the second, pathways to transit connections are marked in colorful lines on station floors, and, for those with visual or physical impairment, tactile paving and efficient elevators make transport easier and more accessible. It is important for one to understand that this fluidity of movement and the aforementioned attention to quality — in food and experience — serve as the bedrock for longevity and health in Japan.
From my perspective, during an all-too-brief time in Tokyo, there is no secret to the success of the Japan in achieving long, healthy life expectancy. Promoting ease of movement, access to quality food, and abundance of social activities can make life for even the person of advanced age enriching, fulfilling, and dynamic, and is step one in a cultural approach toward healthful living. In addition, underneath and around every facet of design lies a warm embrace of nature. Japanese holidays, even, are often named after natural phenomena, including “Spring Day,” “Mountain Day,” and “Marine Day.”
Thus, respect for, and consideration of, the natural world and the concerns of others is carried forth in the actual day-to-day administration of medical care. In line with this collective mentality of Japanese culture exists the first tenet of the national healthcare system: that every person receive health insurance coverage. This fundamental understanding forms the central pillar of healthcare delivery in Japan.
In addition to a commitment to universal health insurance, access to services is easy and abundant; whereas in some cultures, including the United States, one might balk at visiting a doctor, in Japan, frequent visits for check-ups seem to be the norm. Although some services like preventative cancer screenings do lag, generally speaking, attention to health issues, particularly before they become problematic, is widely embraced.
Finally, in Japan, an ongoing commitment to improving efficiency, both in design of physical space and technology demonstrates that innovation, combined with attention to tradition, paves the way forward for human health. In these, and many other aspects of the Japanese healthcare system, one can recognize that the United States can learn a great deal from the efficiency, attention to detail, and veneration of quality imbuing Japanese culture.
In addition to first-hand knowledge gained from our observations of public health hospitals, long-term care facilities, and the Teikyo University Hospital, we learned the overarching dynamics of a complex, efficient, and universal health system and the multi-dimensional considerations contributing to long life in Japan. Whether taking the time to explain a complex language, the identity of tantalizing foods, or the intricacies of society, our hosts provided an exemplary experience not only in understanding Japanese culture, cuisine, and healthcare, but in building upon the essential human connection giving meaning to the dignity and fulfillment of quality life, healthy living, and longevity. Travel or study in Japan is an experience not soon forgotten, and upon departure one can sense the depth of the emotion wabi-sabi — a cultural understanding of “modesty, intimacy, and the appreciation of the ingenuous integrity of natural events.”
The Master of Science in Global Medicine program at the Keck School of Medicine of USC offers study abroad courses in over a dozen countries around the world. Find out more about these opportunities, and the MS in Global Medicine program, by visiting msgm.usc.edu.