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Reminiscences of the Collabo Clinic

by Tamae Hamaki, M.D. (Director of Navitas Clinic Shinjuku, the Medical Corporation Association Tetsuikai)


   • The 'Collabo Clinic' was established for the working generations in urban areas, leading to the creation of a novel

     healthcare system.

   • University Students in Tokyo made significant contributions to its establishment, making it a forum for the

     education of young professionals, who continue to thrive after graduation.

   • It laid the foundations for the Navitas Clinic by the Medical Corporation Association Tetsuikai, which contributed

     to local healthcare during the COVID-19 crisis.

In late May, 2023, I went sea fishing with a group of about ten friends. One of the participants, Tomohide Hirakawa, flew into Tokyo the night before, and after the fishing ended, he made a whirlwind tour back to Fukuoka on an evening flight. I think it had been around ten years since I last met him, and he was as dutiful as ever in responding to my casual invitation. He was one of the team members who helped establish the Collabo Clinic 17 years ago.

The Collabo Clinic was a clinic we created as a 'venture from the University of Tokyo Institute of Medical Science' in November 2006. At the time, we pondered who were the medically vulnerable in the city of Tokyo, one of the most densely populated urban centers globally with highly developed railway network. We realized that there was a dearth of clinics that were easily accessible for the working generations in urban areas, particularly the younger ones, at that time.

With that in mind, we thought of creating a clinic near a train station that would be open in the evenings, a place where people could drop in after work for minor ailments or consultation about slight physical discomfort without having to take time off work.

Under the guidance of Mr. Kan Suzuki (then an active member of the House of Councillors, former State Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, currently a professor at the University of Tokyo and a specially appointed professor at Keio University, hereinafter referred to as "Professor Suzukan") and former specially appointed Professor Masahiro Kami of the University of Tokyo Institute of Medical Science (currently the Chairman of the NPO Medical Governance Research Institute), we opened an experimental clinic in a small room on the second floor of a mixed-use building in front of Shinjuku Station's West Exit.

The name 'Collabo Clinic' was conceived by the students. It symbolized a clinic that provides healthcare as a collaborative effort between patients and healthcare providers, and also a clinic built together by combining the energies of healthcare providers and students. The medical care was provided by Dr. Yuji Tanaka and Dr. Eiji Kusumi, both of whom were staff members of Professor Kami's laboratory.

Although I myself was a physician at a general hospital at the time and did not directly involve in the clinic's medical care, I participated in the preparatory discussions. We opened the clinic based on the hypothesis that there might be a need for evening services for the younger generation. In reality, a significant number of working people in their 20s and 30s dropped by after work. We were relieved and also felt a sense of accomplishment, realizing that our direction was correct.

University students, primarily from the University of Tokyo and part of the then Suzukan Seminar, played a major role behind the scenes in establishing this clinic. Tomohide Hirakawa, whom I mentioned at the beginning, was one of them. The students came from diverse faculties, not only from the Faculty of Medicine, but also from the Faculties of Law, Commerce, and Fine Arts, all interested in healthcare and entrepreneurship. They learned everything from scratch, such as procedures for establishing a medical institution and accounting. They took care of numerous tasks, such as preparing the interior and materials, reception duties, distributing tissues to inform people about the opening of the clinic, and so on.

Of course, it's impossible to advance a full-fledged business with only university students. To guide them, Professor Suzukan reached out to Mr. Kentaro Kawabe, who was a producer at Yahoo Japan Corporation at the time (currently the Chairman of the Board of Z Holdings Corporation), Mr. Takao Ozawa who was with Rakuten (currently the Executive Officer and Executive Director of Z Holdings Corporation), and further to Mr. Yoshiteru Akita who was an advisor to the Board of Directors at at that time (currently the Director and Executive Officer of Kufu Company Inc). They were overwhelmingly strong supporters.

Those individuals, who were already well-known in the IT industry at the time, took precious time out of their busy schedules to teach students about their approach to work and attitude towards business. They provided thorough instruction on even basic principles, such as "do not send business emails in the middle of the night", while also rigorously critiquing the content of the students' presentations from a businessman's perspective, and even reprimanding them when necessary.

The level of strictness was entirely different from the training that doctors receive after graduation. I was nervous seeing Mr. Kawabe, Mr. Ozawa, and Mr. Akita giving stern guidance to students who did sloppy work, thinking "I'm in trouble if I do subpar work too", but it seemed that doctors were treated differently. Professor Suzukan often talks about the "importance of nurturing the next generation of young people", and the Collabo Clinic was indeed such a place for youth education.

Now, let's return to the topic of healthcare at the Collabo Clinic. In the 2000s, many clinics in the world operated only during the day, were closed at night, and also closed on Sundays. However, our experience at the Collabo Clinic made us realize that this leaves no place for certain patient groups. Younger generations in their 20s and 30s find it difficult to leave work during working hours. Parents who have their children in daycare centers often find it hard to take their children to the hospital during the day. For illnesses like hypertension, which can be managed with medication, many people would prefer not to take time off work for doctor's visits if possible. We keenly felt the need to create a clinic that would cater to these needs.

At such a time, I was fortunate to be approached by Ms. Yumiko Kamada, who was then President of JR East Station Retailing. She was developing Ecute Tachikawa at that time, and this connection led to the opening of Navitas Clinic in Tachikawa in June 2008. The concept was to create a station that was friendly to women, so in addition to internal medicine, we also established dermatology and pediatrics. This decision was based on putting the needs of people using the station and its surroundings, especially women and children, first.

Now we have been given the opportunity to provide medical care in Kawasaki and Shinjuku stations, and I have been appointed as the director of the Shinjuku clinic after a fashion. Still, the origin of Navitas Clinic lies in the Collabo Clinic. That's why even during the pandemic, we kept Navitas Clinic open, actively accepted patients with fever, and also cooperated with local COVID-19 vaccination programs. Our goal was to deliver necessary medical care to those who need it.

As for the original Collabo Clinic, it closed its doors before the opening of the Tachikawa branch. However, I believe we achieved our goal of exploring and creating a new style of healthcare for the time, and fostering young students. Mr. Yohei Kiguchi, who was the leader of the execution team as a University of Tokyo student at the time, has since founded a company called ENECHANGE Ltd. and is enjoying success as a young entrepreneur.

Mr. Takuma Koga, who was a student at Tokyo University of the Arts, used the design he used at Collabo Clinic as his graduation work. Since then, he has been active as a designer, and he is responsible for the current logo and brochures of Navitas Clinic. Other members are doing various things, such as working as lawyers and doctors, expanding their activities overseas, or working for healthcare companies after all, and some of them are still connected with us. Mr. Hirakawa told me, "It's enough to just go back to Tokyo to see you after a long time and go fishing." But that's what I should say. I am truly grateful.

Looking back on the Collabo Clinic, I can't deny that we did a clumsy job. However, I keenly feel that it was a valuable time when we learned the importance of updating the medical care we provide to patients without compromising on the existing medical system, and the importance of nurturing young people. We must not forget our original intentions.

Finally, I would like to mention: Ms. Aoyagi, Mr. Kiguchi, Mr. Kyogoku, Mr. Kubo, Mr. Koga, Mr.Sato, Mr. Shimada, Ms. Sugawara, Mr. Tsuyuguchi, Ms. Nishiji, Mr. Hayakawa, Mr. Hirakawa, Mr. Hirose, Mr. Matsui, Mr. Mitani, Mr. Minamikawa, Ms. Yamada. I tried to list them in the order of the Japanese syllabary and by their maiden names for now, but I'm sorry if I missed anyone. I hope that those days have been a source of nourishment for all of you in some way.

Originally published in “Japan in depth” in Japanese on June 30, 2023.


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