By Chadwick Ko, Assistant Language Teacher, Gunma Prefecture, 2000-2002


It is always special to experience something for the first time. Having spent two years on the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme, it would be farfetched to say that my International Medical Rotation (January 30 – February 24, 2006) was a fresh experience. Yet it really was something new.

As a medical student at USC, I did an externship in Japan because it was an excuse to revisit and learn about another aspect of the country. Finding a hospital was not easy, but fate was key to my ending up at the Yokohama City University (YCU) Graduate School of Medicine.

My experience began as I woke up early one morning for the 90 minute commute. Arriving as the sun rose over Tokyo Bay, I met my supervisor, Dr. Kurahashi, in the front lobby of YCU General Hospital. I was whisked to the 4th floor, changed into scrubs and introduced to the Anesthesiology staff and residents during morning rounds. The rest of the week would be a whirlwind of introductions mixed with time touring the operating rooms. From the beginning I knew what my month would be like. Being the first foreign student to ever participate in a rotation at YCU, I not only was a pioneer, but I was given the full treatment. Aside from ample time at YCU Hospital, my schedule included trips to hospitals and clinics throughout the Greater Tokyo area.

I had the chance to observe many procedures, including surgery performed by the famous Dr. Makuuchi of Tokyo University. Perhaps the highlight was being put under nitrous oxide anesthesia, an experience unlike any other. Comparing the American and Japanese medical systems is beyond the scope of this column, but suffice it to say both seemed fundamentally similar in function, differing only in form. Crossing over to the medical school and interacting with the students was another treat. I hardly used my san-kyuu Japanese as they all spoke decent English (could it be…the JET Programme?).

I gave a presentation about medical education in America and performed a joint music recital, but the memories of drinking parties and outings with the new friends I made will stay with me forever. I never slept so little nor did so much in one month than during my time in Japan. It wasn’t easy braving the cold weather, standing for countless hours and relearning a foreign language. But it also wasn’t hard to self-medicate at the local combini, or form lasting relationships with the people I met. It may sound cliche, but even after 2 years working in Japanand 150 years of Japan-America relations, I felt I was
being reintroduced to the country for the first time.