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(L-R) Gowshia Visuvalingam OT’16, Casandra Boushey OT’17, Dr. Setareh Ghahari, Charlotte Larry OT’16

Queen’s SRT Visits Japan’s Niigata University of Health and Welfare!

In 2015, Queen’s School of Rehabilitation Therapy (SRT) and Japan’s Niigata University of Health and Welfare (NUHW) formalized a relationship in order to foster cultural and academic exchange and research collaboration between the two institutions.  As part of this relationship SRT Assistant Professor of Occupational Therapy, Dr. Setareh Ghahari, and three occupational therapy students recently traveled to Japan to visit NUHW. The visit provided the Queen’s group with an opportunity to experience Japanese culture, gain exposure to new academic and clinical-practice settings and to make important connections along the way. The School was thrilled when Dr. Ghahari offered to provide a daily chronicle of the experience.

Day 1: A Taste of Tokyo in 6 Hours

What a beautiful city both ancient and modern!  We hopped on a bus for a morning tour taking us high above the sky-line at the Tokyo Tower, cruised through the park at the Imperial Palace learning about the pine trees that bring longevity to the emperor, then wandered through Asacusa where the oldest temple in Tokyo is located.

Next, we found our way to the affluent Ginza district to experience high-society in Tokyo. Here we sampled Japanese foods at the Mitsukoshi department store – where we struggled to make a decision about what to eat. We sat with the locals and shared lotus flower roots, teriyaki chicken and prawns for lunch!

After trekking through the streets and asking directions from very friendly locals we boarded a Shinkansen train headed for Niigata. Upon arrival we were met by a member of NUWH sporting ‘Queen’s School of Rehabilitation Therapy’ hat to welcome us all!

Day 2: Welcome to Niigata University of Health and Welfare!

We started the day with a wide range of traditional Japanese breakfast dishes, followed by a commute to Niigata University of Health and Welfare (NUWH) with Prof. Nagai and other students. This was the beginning of our royal treatment.  We had the honour of meeting Prof. Yamamoto, President of NUWH, with whom we exchanged gifts and pleasantries. Prof. Yamamoto shared his vision of nurturing and sustaining the relationship between Queen’s University and NUWH “forever.” Afterwards, we embarked on a tour of the beautiful campus, stopping by the Department of Prosthetics & Orthotics and Assistive Technology.

We were invited by the OT Faculty for a traditional Japanese lunch encompassing a wide selection of foods including sashimi, devil’s tongue, tempura and salmon. After exchanging gifts with Prof. Oyama we had the opportunity to introduce ourselves and learn about every member of the faculty. They showed true OT spirit by giving us adaptive chopsticks to eat with – thank goodness or else we would have been there all day!!

Following lunch, we attended a “Welcome Party” organized by the students who sang us a beautiful song and taught us the art of origami – challenging our fine motor control! Later on that day, we sat in on a lecture taught by Prof. Nagai on recreation and participated in ice-breaker games with the students. 

In the evening, we attended a mini-symposium and dinner at the Italy-Ken Hotel, where Prof. Izumi and Prof. Fujime presented a “Case study: Quality of job performance has been improved by interprofessional team” and “Relationship between DIP flexion motion and finger extensor mechanism: measurement using ultrasonography.” What an elegant, FUN and UNFORGETTABLE way to mingle with the faculty and learn about Japan!

Day 3: Learning OT in the Japanese Way

Now, feeling a little more settled into the morning school routine we were greeted by Prof. Nagai for a ride from the hotel to class. We made it to NUHW in time for a session on hand therapy for the junior
students, who were about to embark on fieldwork learning. The class paralleled our learning environment in Canada, as Prof. Oyama invited a client to share his lived experience. Students were able to practice assessments and gain an understanding of the occupational issues of a complex hand injury.

Compi! Lunch was made for us by sophomore students who welcomed us in English and with an imoni party! We got a chance to speak with students who were bravely experimenting with their English language skills.

We moved onto Prof. Imanishi’s ‘Labo’ on ADLs. This brought back memories of OT843 labs as we practiced dressing with reachers, sock aids, and learned tips for DIY assistive devices (very cost efficient)!

Staff at NUHW spoiled us as we continued to experience Japanese culture through making Sasa Dango (dumplings filled with sweet bean pastes wrapped in bamboo leaves). We determined that this could be an
assessment of divided attention because we were both trying to understand the instructions in Japanese, while also watching how to tie string around the bamboo leaves, requiring excellent coordination!

To our surprise Prof. Nagai invited is out for another delicious meal of chunk-imoni, something sumo wrestlers often eat prior to a match. Faculty joined us and great discussions were had around Japanese culture, OT and Niigata sake all while sitting a tatami mat with heated floors for our feet.  Lots of enjoyable memories as always!

Day 4: OT in Action!

We heard that Kingston had more than two feet of snow.  While we thought we had escaped, we woke up to big flakes outside our window!

Another exciting day allowed us to see the role of Japanese OTs in various practice settings. The first site visit took us to a paediatric outpatient hospital. At this site, they told us about sensory integration, feeding and ADL training. We observed clinicians working one-on-one with clients and their families.

Next, we went to an inpatient psychiatric hospital where we observed karaoke, were presented with calligraphy paintings from clients and toured a communal craft room.  It was very interesting to see both of these settings, having experienced fieldwork in these areas and comparing what is taught in the classroom.

Then, it was on to our next Japanese cultural experience at the Yahiko Shinto Shrine! En-route we stopped at a lookout point by the Japan Sea, where the sun shone on the water and waves crashed on the shore. At the shrine we prayed for passing grades on the CAOT exam for everyone in OT‘16 & ‘17!

Dr. Imanishi wanted to take us to an Okashiumi restaurant so that we could experience food from her home of Osaka. So delicious!! These friend noodle ‘pancakes’ included squid, octopus, and soy beans! If you’re talking to Setareh about this meal, just mention the ‘moving food’!

We finished the day by walking through a traditional grocery store, finding treats to bring home. Locals helped us to pick out a good quality bottle of Sake for family members; we weren’t sure if they were pulling our leg or if it really is good Sake…I guess we’ll find out!

Day 5: Last Day in Niigata

Today is our final day in Niigata – we are surprised with how quickly our time here has passed!

It has been wonderful to see how and what the students learn and then see it applied to practice. We observed this application of knowledge when visiting the Niigata Medical & Dental University in the physical dysfunction acute care unit.  The doctor who gave us a tour included a visit to the helipad! Here, we learned about the specialty of disaster medicine, an important field given the 1,500 earthquakes Japan encounters annually. Although OTs are not the ones to take the helicopter to affected areas, we would see clients who have been affected by natural disaster.  We had the chance to meet an OT who educated us on his role within the hospital; he showed us some beautiful splints that he had made for children and adults with various conditions.

Following the visit, we went back to NUHW for a farewell lunch.  It was wonderful to be involved in the lunch-making process, hitting the rice with a hammer to make it dense for eating. This meal is typically enjoyed during New Year’s Eve celebrations!

We then had the opportunity to visit a rehab hospital and a skilled nursing home. In addition, we were fortunate enough to see the Tasukus Sotokawa driving simulator, which we had been having conversations about all week!  The day concluded with a feedback meeting and wonderful sushi dinner at a local Niigata restaurant.

The visit has been an incredible cultural, academic and professional learning experience, enriched by the new connections and friends that we have made along the way.