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Messages to Their Second Century

Even 65 years ago, Waseda was an international and comfortable university.

Dr. Evgeny Aksenov
United Nations WHO Registered Physician
Director of International Clinic

Dr. Evgeny Aksenov is still active at 83 years old, serving as director of a clinic that specializes in treating foreigners. His clinic is located inside a Western-style building that has stood quietly for approximately 100 years at an intersection in the Iikurakata neighborhood of Roppongi. Dr. Dr. Aksenov discussed his memories of studying Japanese at the Waseda International Institute(*), as well as aspects of his daily life.

Aspiring to become a doctor since 6 years old

Dr. Aksenov, you came to Japan 65 years ago and entered the Jikei University School of Medicine after studying Japanese at Waseda. What initially got you interested in becoming a doctor?

When I was about 6 years old, I was living in Harbin in what was once Manchuria, where my father had been exiled. At that time, I caught a cold and was taken to a hospital for the first time. Since I was a child, the doctors and nurses were very kind to me. They let me place the stethoscope on my chest so that I could hear the sound of my heart. To me, all of the medical instruments seemed to be interesting toys. The doctors white gown seemed stylish to me, I liked the smell of disinfectant, and I was made to drink cold medicine that was sweet syrup. I thought that the hospital was such a wonderful place! Ever since then, I never wavered in my desire to become a doctor.

Exterior of the clinic

What events led to your arrival in Japan and your study of language at Waseda?

In Harbin, I was attending a French missionary school. Normally, I would have proceeded to enter a French medical university without having to take examinations. However, this was during World War II, so I became unable to attend university in France. At that time, Mr. Tsugaru (the father of Empress Hanako of the Hitotachinomiya household) came to Harbin, and his interest in horseback riding led him to visit the ranch that my father managed. I could speak Japanese, so when Mr. Tsugaru asked me "What is your dream for the future?", I answered "I want to become a doctor". Mr. Tsugaru then replied "Why don't you study in Japan?" I didn't take our conversation so seriously, so I was surprised when an invitation was delivered one month later. Eventually, I studied language at Waseda and then advanced to the Jikei University School of Medicine.

Waseda provided a comfortable university environment for foreigners

What memories do you have of your school days at Waseda?

I entered the International School in 1943 (18th year of the Showa Era). It was a 3 year course, but I graduated in 1 year since I had already studied Japanese in Harbin. The conjugation of verbs and the study of Chinese classics were difficult, but the instructors excelled at teaching. I am very grateful to Professor Junichi Natori, who passed away recently, for all that he taught me.

From the time that I entered Waseda, the university possessed a very international atmosphere. I didn't have any unpleasant experiences, even though I was a foreigner and World War II was being fought. I participated in judo and kendo and made lots of friends. Really, I have nothing but fun memories. The lady working at the cafeteria always gave me a generous portion because of my big build. After I graduated, I took some sweets and went to thank that cafeteria lady. However, what had been a lively cafeteria was closed due to food shortages, and the whole place was empty and eerily quiet. I remember even now the paper which was posted on the door saying "Closed until Victory". Anyway, I am very happy that I had a chance to study at Waseda. Even now, I watch university baseball games and cheer for Waseda.

Although this isn't directly related with Waseda, at that time, I was doing part-time work as an actor to pay for my tuition. I was always cast as the bad guy! (laughing) I appeared in national films such as "The Man from Chongqing" and "The Malayan Tiger". I was also part of a play entitled "The Tale of the Black Ships".

After graduating from the Jikei University School of Medicine, you served in positions such as interpreter for American Command Headquarters, as well as at the American Army Hospital and medical clinics for foreigners. You then went independent and opened the International Clinic where you have treated foreigners of various positions, such as key political figures like former French President Chirac, big stars like Michael Jackson, businessmen working in Japan, women working at nightclubs in Roppongi, and tourist. Even now, you are still energetic and active in your work as a doctor.

Foreigners of many different circumstances gather in the waiting room of the International Clinic

I think that this clinic is truly one of a kind. Currently, clinic is run by 4 doctors-an American, a Malaysian, a Japanese, and myself. I myself can speak English, Chinese, Russian, German, and Japanese, so there are examination requests from several different embassies. I keep an examination bag prepared at both my home and at the clinic, so I can quickly go to the patient's hotel or anywhere else when I am called.

Every morning, I walk for 35 minutes from my house in Minami-Azabu to the clinic in Iikurakata. So, as you can see, I have plenty of energy! However, my eyesight has become somewhat poor, so in the case of surgical procedures I use a cooperative system in which I introduce skilled specialists.

Since I have been doing this work for a long time, I have patients who I first examined when they were just little girls, but now they have become mothers and are bringing their children in for examinations. I see 4 generations of the family of a patient who is 100 years old. Even now, I really enjoy spending time with my patients, the staff of the clinic is very kind, and I don't find any negative aspects in my work. Plus, it wouldn't be very good for my wife if I quit working and was at home all the time! As they say in Japan, a good husband is healthy and not at home (laughing)!

Learning from patients even now

Dr. Aksenov, I have heard that you reduce or wave examination fees for patients in financial difficulty, and that you have even distributed living expenses in some cases. In fact, your magnanimous record in this area has been recognized by awards such as the Yoshikawa Eji Prize for Culture and the Social Contribution Award of the Foundation for Encouragement of Social Contribution (FESCO).

You cannot squeeze blood from a stone. It is impossible to take money from people that don't have any. Regardless, illness must be treated. So, I am really not doing anything that noble. Even if I don't receive an examination fee, I am learning many things from my patients. I continue to study even now.

A variety of issues are under examination in regards to medicine in Japan. How do you feel about the state of medicine in Japan?

There is the problem of medical facilities being extremely busy, and of doctors and nurse being exhausted. This is caused by an increased number of patients visiting hospitals as a result of an aging society. However, the Japanese medical system itself is spectacular. I believe that other countries have much to learn from the medical system of Japan.

The clinic is located in a Western-style building from the Taisho Period. The building withstood the Great Kanto Earthquake, and it also escaped damage during World War II since it is surrounded by embassies. "In Tokyo, this clinic is perhaps the only place with original restroom facilities from the Taisho Period!" says Dr. Aksenov.

Dr. Evgeny Aksenov
United Nations WHO Registered Physician
Director of International Clinic

Born in Harbin, Manchuria in 1924 (13th year of Taisho Period) of Russian nationality. Lost all nationality due to the fall of Manchuria. Came to Japan at 18 years of age and studied at the Waseda International School(*) and the Jikei University School of Medicine. Opened the International Clinic after serving as interpreter for American Command Headquarters and as a physician at the American Army Hospital.

(*)Waseda International School
Established in September 1935 on what is now Nishi-Waseda Campus as part of the Waseda Hoshien Student Christian Center. Included a preparatory school for foreigners who wished to enter university in Japan. A large number of Waseda University academic staff held double positions in the Waseda International School, including the Director, advisors, and instructors. Both schools were in a very close relationship.