Dr. Hiroshi Ishikawa believes there is no one better qualified than him to treat the patients he sees.
Some travel for up to two hours to visit the 68-year-old at Suzushiro Clinic in Tokyo’s Nerima Ward, and lines form before it opens at 9 a.m. on his consultation days.
Ishikawa’s patients are “war orphans” — Japanese left behind in China as children after World War II — and their offspring. Ishikawa, who was born in China to a Chinese father and a Japanese mother who stayed on after the war, is able to speak to his patients in Chinese and can understand the struggles they face in their new lives.
Most of the war-displaced and their families are not fluent in Japanese and are unable to understand doctors when they visit hospitals in Japan. Some refuse to be hospitalized here or return to China for treatment.
Some Japanese doctors, meanwhile, shy away from seeing Chinese-speaking patients from the start, saying it is difficult for them to communicate.
In addition to treating patients in Chinese, Ishikawa explains medical reports brought by them from other hospitals.
Ishikawa was born in Beijing in December 1946. His father was a doctor, while his mother was a nurse who had gone to live in China before the war.
The couple married and after the war, his mother stayed on in China. Keen to hide her Japanese identity amid anti-Japanese sentiment, she never used her native language and Ishikawa was raised with no knowledge of it.
His father lost his job at a hospital run by the Chinese Communist Party because of his marriage to a Japanese. But he persevered and continued to work hard at a hospital in Shanxi province. Ishikawa respected him so much that he decided to become a doctor, too.
In 1982, Ishikawa’s mother, then 74, decided to return to Japan as she wished to die in her home country. Ishikawa, as the oldest son, felt he should take care of her and came to Japan in 1984 after graduating from medical school in China.
Ishikawa studied Japanese from scratch and attended a medical school in Japan while taking odd jobs such as cleaning offices and working at construction sites. He received a license to practice medicine in Japan in 1998. He engaged in rural medical care on a remote island before working at Suzushiro Clinic.
Ishikawa’s Chinese wife, who worked as a nurse in China, delivered newspapers to support the family while raising a daughter and a son, and studied to receive a nursing license in Japan.
In 2005, Ishikawa started a nonprofit organization to introduce Chinese-speaking doctors to war-displaced Japanese and their children who are unable to understand Japanese. The NPO also offers day care services for elderly war orphans.
Ishikawa is proud of his work, saying it is something “no one but I can do because I understand how returnees feel.” He is happy when he sees his patients look relieved after meeting him.
“The effectiveness of medical treatment doubles if there are relations of trust between doctors and patients,” he said. “Treatment, even if correct, is unworkable without this.”
Asked who the Ishikawa family supports when it comes to sports competitions between Japan and China, he said his two children, born and raised in Japan, support Japanese athletes. His wife, though a naturalized Japanese citizen, cheers for the Chinese.
“Me? I’m 50-50,” he said with a smile.