May 19, 2018

Mission from the 'Unlucky' Fourth Floor

Marcos Paseggi, Adventist Review

In the 89 years since it opened its doors for the first time, many things have changed at Adventist Tokyo Hospital (TAH). Two things, however, have stayed the same. First, the institution unflinching commitment “to make man’s whole through Christ’s love.”

The second? “Administration offices are in the fourth floor,” says hospital president and CEO Toshihiro Nishino in introducing Adventist Review to his office.

With a wide smile, he explains, “In Japan, four is an unlucky number because it is pronounced shi, like the word for death. No patient wants to be hospitalized on a fourth floor. So, we placed administration offices, and we are doing rather well!”

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During the following 30 minutes and without losing his ever-present smile, Nishino, 56, talked about his background, the joys and challenges of running the 186-bed institution, and the essential role he thinks TAH fulfills to support the mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Tokyo, Japan, and around the world.

On top of his many responsibilities as a physician and administrator, Nishino is interpreting Adventist Church president Ted Wilson’s messages into Japanese at the adjacent Amanuma Seventh-day Adventist Church. He is married to a dentist, and together, they have three grown children.

What follows are edited excerpts of what he shared with Adventist Review on May 4, 2018, from his office perked at THA’s “unlucky” fourth floor in a quaint west Tokyo neighborhood.

Adventist Review: Would you like to tell us first a little bit about yourself? What are your background and qualifications?

Toshiriro Nishino: Of course. My great-grandmother was one of the first Seventh-day Adventists in Japan. I was born in Hitachi — like Hitachi TVs — about 100 miles (160 km) north of Tokyo. I grew up near the countryside, attending a church with about 100 members and a small, 30-student Adventist school.

For my high school, I went to the Adventist boarding school in Hiroshima, and then I attended Pacific Union College [in Angwin, California, United States]. Then I transferred to Loma Linda University, where from 1988 to 1993, I completed a residency in surgery. After working two years for the county hospital near Loma Linda, I came back to Japan. I always knew that I was going to come back.

AR: And what about the healthcare institution you lead?

TN: I have been president of the hospital for the last five years, and recently was also appointed CEO when my colleague turned 70 and retired. I am 56, so I need to start thinking about the leaders who might eventually replace me.

Our institution includes the hospital, which is basically for inpatients. On the same campus as the hospital, we have a four-story clinic — Tokyo Adventist Clinic — which is for day patients. As part of the hospital, we also have a dentistry clinic. And a couple of blocks from here, a strategically located fertility clinic.

AR: What do you think is the mission significance of this healthcare institution for Japanese society? What do other people see when they read the sign that says, “Tokyo Adventist Hospital”?

TN: First, I believe an Adventist hospital and an Adventist church should always work together. Whenever the church organizes something, the hospital needs to be there to support it. So, yes, everybody who reaches our doors knows we are a hospital funded by the [Seventh-day Adventist] Church. In Japanese, we have retained our historical name as “Sanitarium Hospital,” which does not specifically include the word “Adventist.” But the community knows very well that we are Christians and who we are affiliated with.

AR: What specific plans and activities, if any, has the hospital engaged on to support the mission of the Church?

TN: It all starts with the local church here on our campus. About 50 percent of the Amanuma Church members are somehow connected to the hospital. We are separate entities, but we share many things. And the church knows they can count on us. We know cooperation is essential because we are working for the same purpose, the same mission.

Last year, evangelistic meetings were held [at the Amanuma Church]. The guest speaker was [Northern Asia Pacific Division Ministerial director] Ron Clouzet. Almost every volunteer working for the series was a hospital employee or was connected to the hospital, I included. I was interpreting [Clouzet’s] messages [into Japanese]. We are in full cooperation mode with the local, regional, and world church.

And the hospital leadership understands it so. Board members are very much oriented to church and service activities.

AR: Are you then comfortable and satisfied with what the hospital is doing to support the mission of the Adventist Church in Japan? Is there anything else you think it would be relevant to that end?

TN: We have some challenges. Back in the 50’s and 60’s, 80 percent of the THA’s staff was Adventist. Now that figure is down to 30 percent. The hospital got bigger, and the [Adventist] Church in Japan stopped growing significantly about twenty years ago. So, the church is not able to provide us enough qualified workers. Even at our nursing school, we hire more nurses than what the school graduates. And not every graduate is an Adventist. So, yes, I would like to see more church members among our employees, to support the church more.

AR: How do you begin working to solve that issue?

TN: I see our hospital as a mission field. And indeed, many TAH’s employees from other faiths are attending the church. Often, they are not even Christian—basically atheist—, but they feel drawn when they watch the exemplary lives of their Adventist colleagues. We need our Adventist employees to be also good church members, to assist their non-Christian colleagues along this process.

For the journey to be successful, we need to work together with the church. They need to see us act in a way that they say, “These are good people. I want to know why, because I would like to be like them.” And the truth is, it is what is happening. Some non-Christian employees are attending church, and several are being baptized.

But we need to do more. It is one of the reasons I encourage my Adventist employees, and even myself, to be very active in church. Lukewarm Christians find it harder to be a good influence.

AR: Are there any other specific step you’re taking to treat your institution — as you said — as a mission field?

TN: We know that some people are not religious. We know that if they see too much religion [in their workplace], they tend to leave. But we do have a worship service every morning. We don’t force anyone to attend, but we invite and strongly recommend all our staff to do it. Also, prayer plays an important role in our institution. There is a religious atmosphere in everything we do here.

We know that if people don’t like what they see, they leave. But we also know that if you stay, it is because you like it. And I am confident our [non-Christian] employees working here have stayed because they enjoy the religious atmosphere of the institution. They feel more comfortable in this Christian atmosphere.

I can also see that the longer they stay with us, the more used they get to our way of doing things. Occasionally, we have had to appoint a non-Christian as a department director. In a different context it could be risky, but in our experience, by the time they are invited to take over, they have learned to respect the Bible principles we follow here. They know it is what we expect from them and they follow through.

AR: So, you don’t see any danger of compromising the Adventist identity of this healthcare institution.

TN: In Japan, there are many healthcare facilities, many hospitals. The national insurance system guarantees same coverage for everyone. People can be treated almost anywhere. So to have an edge, you must offer a distinctive, clearly-defined product. Otherwise, you end up being like anybody else.

So, for me, it is clear. It all starts with the leaders’ commitment. If you call yourself an Adventist institution, you must work with and for the church. Otherwise, there’s no reason for you to carry that name.