So I was checking out some J-dramas this past week and I discovered this new show based on a real thing that I didn’t know about. Apparently, in one area of Japan there’s a mobile boat clinic that goes around and helps out various islands in need of medical care. I’d never heard of anything like this before, so I was very intrigued. The show’s pretty good too, but more on that later.
The Saiseimaru and the Seto Inland Sea
The Seto Inland Sea (Setonaikai) in central Japan is dotted with approximately 3,000 small to medium-sized islands, often sparsely populated and located far from welfare services. The Seto Inland Sea lies between Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu. The relative isolation of the area has been helped out greatly by the travels of the Saiseimaru, a floating medical clinic that visits the islands on a regular schedule all year round.
Running the ship costs about 120,000,000 yen per year, which is about $1,215,120. Each year the ship services about 542,000 patients though, so it certainly seems to earn its keep. The current ship is the third Saiseimaru, and it will be exchanged for the forth on January 26th, 2014.
Tell Me More About These Islands
The Seto Inland Sea is most often compared to the Mediterranean due to its relaxed atmosphere and mild climate. Most of the sea is actually part of the Setonaikai National Park, one of the first national parks designated in Japan. The area is covered by an extensive ferry network with many of the islands being connected to one another by small local ferries. The reason for this is that the area is a historically important trade route, and the area continues to be an integral shipping lane.
Some islands in the area have become popular tourist destinations. Most notably, the eastern islands around Naoshima (which we covered before, by the way) have become a nifty modern art destination with crazy museums on Naoshima itself, Inujima, and Teshima.
Visiting the islands gives you the opportunity to visit terraced rice fields, old fishing villages complete with old wooden houses, and it gives you a peek into a traditional way of life that has largely disappeared from the mainland. It’s basically like traveling years into the past on some of the islands here.
The total population of the Seto Inland Sea is about 35 million people, but I’m pretty sure this number includes people living on the mainland coast, and not just the islands themselves. The largest island (Awajishima) has a population of 157,000, and the second largest (Shodoshima) has a population of just 32,000. Some of the smaller islands have as little as 200 people living on them, and many seem to have under 1,000. So, that kind of gives you a rough idea of what the area’s like.
The Saiseimaru Saves the Day!
I hadn’t given much thought to before, but in different areas of Japan, there are a lot of islands. So many that it wouldn’t really be feasible to have modern hospital establishments on each and every one of them. So that’s where this boat clinic comes into play. Researching the topic of the Saiseimaru itself was a real pain though. The gracious Mami helped me out a ton on this one as most all the information concerning the boat was in Japanese, and even then, there wasn’t a whole lot out there to find.
Now, this doesn’t surprise me too much as there’s only one of these boats out there doin’ its hospital thing, but I do think that it’s really cool. Since it’s so neat, I was surprised that there wasn’t more info out there, especially with the drama that just came out based upon it. And speaking of the drama, let’s get into that now, shall we?
Clinic on the Sea
I actually first heard about Clinic on the Sea, or Umi no Ue no Shinryojo (海の上の診療所) when I was watching Summer Nude earlier this year (it was great, you should check it out). There was a preview for Clinic on the Sea as a new and upcoming drama, and something about the preview just stood out to me. It made me feel like it was going to be a good one.
And so far, it is.
As of this article, I’ve only checked out the first two episodes, but they were both very enjoyable. Since the series is currently airing, only a few episodes are out right now, but I’m thinking I’ll keep up with it since I’ve enjoyed it so far already.
You already know the basic premise from reading the first part of this article – the story follows a hospital ship on its journeys to help out those on the many islands of Japan. The main dude, Dr. Kota Sezaki (played by Matsuda Shota) is a brilliant doctor serving on board the fictional floating hospital Kaishinmaru. He’s a bit quirky, and incredibly quick to fall in love. So much that he finds himself falling for a girl at every port they stop at, but the girl always ends up with someone else by the end of the episode.
Now, I usually don’t like shows that are so formulaic like this. It seems like every episode is just Kota going somewhere, instantly falling for a girl, doing medicine on someone related to that girl, and then the girl ends up with someone else and Kota is thrown into crushing depression at the end of the episode. Sure, it’s a little predictable, but I really, really like Kota as well as the rest of the cast.
Kota’s character instantly clicked with me. He has a lot of personality and he loves the ladies. Coming from the stoic lead Yamapi played in Summer Nude, Kota is a welcome change.
There’s a handful of famous actors and actresses to be seen here as well (Terajima Susumu, Arakawa Yoshiyoshi, Shinoda Mariko) so the show definitely has that star power. There’s also a bit of mystery as Kota has told his mother that he’s engaged but too busy to come home and introduce her to his fiance. And there’s also a mystery character at the restaurant/bar his mom runs who has yet to reveal his face. Toda Erika is also searching for Kota, but we have no idea why, and she’s had minimal screen time so far.
Will Kota end up with Toda Erika’s character? Will his mother ever meet the fiance that he doesn’t (or does??) have yet? Will Kota end up falling in love with one of the nurses on the Kaishinmaru instead? Who knows!? But what I do know is that the show is so funny and entertaining that I am perfectly content with watching it and slowly finding out the answers to all of these pressing questions.
If you like, boats, medicine, crazy characters, or anything else I’ve mentioned, you should check out the show. It’s nifty. It’s not gonna knock off any of the powerhouses from my Top 10 Dramas list, but it’s an entertaining show nonetheless.
So tell me, had you ever heard of these mobile sea clinics in Japan? What do you think of them? Gonna check out Clinic on the Sea? You should!