According to Dr. Tsuyoshi Akiyama, until rather recently psychiatry as a branch of medicine did not receive in Japan the recognition it merits. He, however, made psychiatry his specialty. His reasons at the time were very specific.
“Originally I wanted to be a mathematician,” he said. “When I was 17 at university, my professor of advanced math asked me if I had discovered a new theorem. I said no. Then he asked if I had discovered a new way to prove a theorem. I said no. He said that had to be done by the age of 19 or 20, and advised me to give up mathematics.
“There were many doctors in my mother’s family, and my mother wanted me to succeed her father as a doctor. When I gave up my dream of mathematics, I considered how logic was very clear, and how different human psychiatry was. I gave up my very clear world for the ambiguous world of human psychiatry.”
He had done very well in the ambiguous world, while staying very precise in his memory of dates and places and events. His family made frequent moves during his childhood, until he came from Fukushima to Tokyo.
After graduating from the faculty of medicine of Tokyo University, he became a medical doctor there in 1979. As a psychiatrist he joined the staff of the university’s branch hospital in Mejiro. He stayed there until 1996, when he became clinical professor of the department of psychiatry at the main university hospital. At the same time he became director of psychiatry at the Kanto Medical Center.
For more than 16 years, he has also attended the Tokyo Medical Clinic at Shiba Koen, where he offers consultations in English. He has published papers, made presentations at international conferences in many different locations, and attended an invitational symposium in Cleveland and a workshop in Amsterdam.
Five years ago, Tokyo University conferred on him the degree of doctor of philosophy. Traveled and sophisticated, Akiyama presents a rounded personality. He is a tennis player, a music lover and a wine taster.
Early in his career, Akiyama became interested in psychiatric problems suffered by non-Japanese residents of Japan.
“I happened to see an American patient,” he said. “I was young, but it did seem to me that the senior doctor was not taking into account cultural differences. I thought that was not right. There were few psychiatrists around then who could speak English well. I had no personal cross-cultural experience, but I thought I saw a niche that I might fill. I heard of a workshop in Hawaii, that I attended to learn the theory of cross-cultural adjustment. It was not enough for me, but I began to restructure my own understanding. I took up training as a counselor with Tokyo English Life Line.”
TELL, a nonprofit organization, came into being in 1973 when people in the Tokyo area recognized that a need existed among English-speaking residents for counseling services. It is Japan’s only accredited, multidisciplinary mental health center serving the international community.
TELL began by training personal to function as telephone counselors. It developed the Community Counseling Service, which offers professional face-to-face counseling in English, Japanese and Spanish. It provides services to employee assistance programs for the employees of international corporations. It conducts workshops on a variety of issues. TELL is affiliated with Inochi-no-Denwa, and is accredited by Life Line International and the Samaritan Institute.
Akiyama volunteered as a TELL telephone counselor until that commitment came into conflict with his professional schedules. He stayed on call for TELL, which refers cases to him. Two years ago he accepted the chairmanship of the TELL board of directors.
“Why do I do it?” he asked himself, and answered, “To provide comprehensive mental health care for non-Japanese in Japan. Sometimes expatriates do not have the inner resources to support them.”
He asked himself another question: “If a non-Japanese really wants to be integrated here, is Japanese society prepared to accept him?” He thinks that as chairman, he can serve TELL well. “We need good integration between organizations such as TELL and Japanese professionals,” he said.
TELL recently moved to 5-4-22 Minami Aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo, 107-0062. Its new telephone numbers are:
Life Line (03) 5774-0992
Face-to-face counseling in English: (03) 3498-0231 in Japanese: (03) 3498-0232
Phone services: (03) 3498-0246
Office: (03) 3498-0261
Fax: (03) 3498-0272