While Toshio Kishimoto’s business card describes him as a doctor of medicine, drugs are not the only healing method in this practitioner’s black bag. Besides heading a laboratory at the National Institute of Infectious Diseases in Tokyo, the 47-year-old is also an award-winning composer and shakuhachi player in the jazz and pop idioms — not exactly traditional genres.
While some may puzzle at this strange mix, the multitalented doctor says that, for him, it is just a matter of course. “I write and play my music because I just want to, no matter how busy I am,” the researcher said. “But I think I’m lucky because people enjoy my music, and that’s really a pleasure for me, too.”
Ever since he began working as a clinical doctor specializing in respiratory diseases at Kawasaki Medical School in Okayama Prefecture, Kishimoto has voluntarily given shakuhachi performances in hospitals, schools and other facilities.
Nowadays, he devotes his energy to raising awareness of music therapy — a treatment that uses music to encourage positive changes in the mental, physical and social functioning of individuals with health or psychological problems.
Kishimoto strongly believes in the positive effect music can have on people. “It’s natural for me, as a doctor, to want to introduce any treatment that will help my patients,” he said.
Music, he notes, not only penetrates the minds and bodies of patients, but “also reaches the hearts of the hospital staff as well as the people taking care of their families.” He added that the result is a positive impact on the overall environment surrounding the patient.
Kishimoto’s musical career began with violin lessons when he was 8. His interest shifted to the shakuhachi at 13 after he found one of the instruments in his home in Kochi Prefecture, where his mother taught koto.
Although his skill level would entitle him to teaching certification for the shakuhachi, Kishimoto said he has never really been comfortable with the traditional notes played on the instrument.
This prompted him to seek more freedom of expression on the shakuhachi, a goal that is reflected in his current musical activities, which include ensembles written for shakuhachi and guitar — projects that reflect his wide range of musical experiences.
Pursuit of a medical career was also natural for him as his father practiced medicine, he said. “I wanted to do something to help people, and watching my father, I thought being a doctor was such a profession.”
During his Okayama days, he continued research on chlamydia, a virus that is passed sexually and can trigger sterility or can be transmitted through air to cause pneumonia.
While his medical career may have continued on track, his musical prowess might have remained buried had he not met George Tsutakawa, a renowned Japanese-American sculptor. A documentary on the artist was being filmed by a local television station when Kishimoto was a visiting researcher at the University of Washington in 1993.
Kishimoto was asked to provide music for the documentary, which went on to win the prestigious Regional Emmy Award for Music Composer from the National Academy of Television and Arts a year later.
While running his practice in Okayama for nearly two decades, Kishimoto in June was accepted as the head of the laboratory of Rickettsia and Chlamydia at NIID, where he has been able to focus further on his research.
One of his missions as head of the lab is to increase the number of chlamydia researchers and establish a network of scholars.
“Actually, my shakuhachi has helped me make personal connections, because people remember me as the chlamydia specialist who played music on the shakuhachi,” said Kishimoto, who carries his flutes around in a bag and performs whenever he has the chance.
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