Kagoshima: Captivated by island, doctor relocates to treat residents

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Shinsuke Kobayashi examines a patient in Yoron, Kagoshima Prefecture, on Oct. 13.

YORON, Kagoshima — A private clinic on a remote island 23 kilometers from the northern tip of Okinawa Island has finally reopened after it had to close for 16 months due to a lack of a doctor.

Shinsuke Kobayashi moved from Tokyo and took over as the clinic’s director. The 42-year-old doctor said he wanted the clinic to help islanders feel at ease.

The Yomiuri Shimbun

The town of Yoron, Kagoshima Prefecture, consists only of Yoron Island. It is home to roughly 5,000 people and located about 560 kilometers south of Kagoshima City. Kobayashi’s clinic is near the town hall.

Michiko Kawabata, 76, has been a patient for over 10 years since the clinic was run by the previous director.

“This clinic has always taken care of my entire family. Dr. Kobayashi is good-natured and I can talk to him about anything,” she said.

Kobayashi’s hometown is in Saitama Prefecture, but he lived in Kagoshima to attend a famous junior high and high school in the city. Then he entered the University of Tokyo’s Faculty of Letters.

With encouragement from his grandmother, who was a pediatrician, Kobayashi pursued his career as a doctor. After graduating, he enrolled in Kagoshima University’s Faculty of Medicine.

Kobayashi first visited Yoron Island during his university’s remote medicine training program in his third year of school. He stayed on the island and learned under Seiji Kokawa, the previous director, for about 10 days.

Kobayashi was deeply impressed with how Kokawa, who opened the clinic in 1991, interacted with his patients. Kokawa was more of an islander than a doctor, and he always closely attended to his patients, sometimes using the island’s dialect.

After graduating from medical school at the age of 30, Kobayashi worked as a specialist in home health care at the Tokyo-based Yushoukai Medical Corporation, which operates clinics in the Kanto region, among others.

Meanwhile, Kokawa, who was over 70, felt his physical strength reaching its limit and began searching for a successor to his clinic. Since he couldn’t find one, Kokawa closed the clinic in March 2021. After consulting with a Yushoukai chairperson, whom Kokawa happened to know, Kobayashi was singled out.

“It felt as though fate was calling,” Kobayashi recalled. “It would be a way to give back to Kagoshima, where I studied during junior high school, high school and college.”

Kobayashi readily agreed, moving to the island from Tokyo in March of this year. In July, the clinic reopened under the management of Yushoukai.

Kobayashi treats 20 to 30 people on most days and whenever he receives a call, even at night or on holidays. Many islanders wish to pass away at their home, and there is a great demand for home health care, according to clinic staff. Kobayashi said he was once thanked by an islander, who told him that if it were not for the available home health care, he would have left the island.

Kokawa, 73, said Kobayashi “has been modest and kind since he was a student. The perfect doctor came to us.”

The clinic will begin accepting medical students from Kagoshima University for training in January next year.

“I would be happy if the students who will come here for training would help us in the future,” Kobayashi said, recalling how he came to become the director.

“I want to spend as much time as possible on Yoron Island and interact with the community by continuing to carefully treat patients.”