An Interview with our Founder and Chairman

"My sense of mission may be selfish in a way, but I really aspire to be an instigator in promoting health and creating a sustainable society because this is our duty and responsibility to future generations"

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"My own resolution didn’t seem so significant" ~ Way of thinking transformed by encounters with international students

Please tell us a little about your story so far.

Since my parents were prone to being sick, the impact of health on life and work was something that was very apparent to me from a young age. I’m sure this formative experience has led me to what I’m doing now.

After leaving university, I had the opportunity to work at Johnson & Johnson, and became involved in work related to prevention of medical accidents, which was a big turning point for me. The media tends to highlight the "human error" aspect of medical accidents, but I always got the sense that in the background there were so many systemic factors that can’t be handled by or blamed on one individual, whether it’s manpower or budgetary issues, or a culture where it’s hard to admit failure, or an organizational culture that makes it difficult to point out a potential error to your boss. So, I started to educate myself about these wider issues, and this led eventually to my decision to go overseas to study at the Harvard School of Public Health, which was at the forefront of the field at the time. After a few years of necessary preparation, I moved to the US with my family.

What did you learn during your time at Harvard School of Public Health?

For me, the biggest impact was undoubtedly on my own way of thinking. Before enrolling, I was if anything probably more interested in "micro issues" relating to prevention of medical accidents and management of medical institutions. By the time I graduated, however, I’d come to grasp things much more from a macro perspective in terms of healthcare policy and the like.

What changed your way of thinking?

There were two international students that I met. One was from Afghanistan, a female obstetrician in her thirties. We were neighbors in the student dormitory, and talked a lot about various things. She was set to graduate a year ahead of me, and when I asked what she planned to do next, she gave a very powerful response.

"I will become Prime Minister. I don’t think you can easily imagine the ‘pre-healthcare’ problems my country faces. With the civil war, there’s no gas, electricity, or running water, nothing’s functioning as it should. Kabul, our capital, is just a mountain of rubble, infant mortality is still very high, and many mothers die in childbirth. To help as many of our people as we can, we must improve the country itself before we can improve healthcare. That’s why I will become Prime Minister."

That really opened my eyes. In fact, she went on to become Afghanistan’s Minister of Public Health while still in her thirties, and has been the country’s Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva for several years now.

The other student was a doctor in his twenties who had come from Thailand. Even in the midst of the demanding classes and coursework at Harvard, I would see him doing some kind of additional work of his own. When I asked what he was doing, I found he was intently studying the agricultural sections of Thailand’s equivalent of the Monthly Economic Reports published in Japan. When I asked why he was doing this on top of everything else he had to study, he explained: "There are many poor in Thailand’s rural areas, and so if agriculture, the key industry, is not good, it will have a great impact on the health of people there. Thus, the health of the people can’t be protected without developing agriculture. So, a doctor must also learn about agriculture." He was very earnest about this.

To see how seriously and fixedly they were looking at their respective country’s situation had a powerful impact on me. I had spent several years studying for entrance exams while also working full-time, and though I had a scholarship, going overseas with my family in my mid-thirties to study required a pretty high level of determination. However, compared to those who were committing their lives to carrying their countries on their backs, I felt humbled, and my own resolution didn’t seem so significant. Observing their approach, I also came to feel that I need to commit my time and effort to making society better for the benefit of the country and the people... So, in this frame of mind, on returning to Japan I became involved with the independent think tank, Health and Global Policy Institute, among other activities, and started to confront social issues.

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