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!

Sites Referenced:

  • simplyshiny

    Love Matsuda Shota dramas! I’ll have to check it out!

  • Karen

    I have been wanting to check this out!

    Summer Nude was pretty awful. Well the leads were awful. The secondary cast was really good.

  • Nika

    Ahhh there life seems to be so interesting.

  • froople

    Oshima, one of the islands in the sea, housed a sanatorium for leprosy sufferers. Since a law allowing removal from the public to this island was in place from 1909 to 1996, there are still old patients living there today, having no family to return to – they’re either dead or would never accept them back, as infected children were often cast out of the family completely. There’s a recent case concerning leprosy stigma in Japan too. A few ex-patients from another sanatorium were rejected from a hotel during a home visit program. People protested against the hotel. Hotel apologized, but the ex-patients rejected it. People protested against the patients. Weird stuff.

  • Yuki

    Boat clinic… that sounds interesting, an unusual way of dealing medical care since there’s usually a hospital or clinic in each area (or isn’t there?). I wonder how its like to work on it tho (im a Med student so it sounds interesting:) )

  • dj lange

    mobile sea clinic concept pretty interesting, never heard of it, but i think is cool, as for the show i’ve watched the 3 episodes that are out here and i love it, plan to continue watching even though like you said i hate the whole same thing happens in every episode deal, but the hint of mystery has me hooked and the main character is pretty funny, wondering how long they’re gonna make the series.

  • Reverie

    I’m so glad you posted this; can’t wait to watch!
    If anyone reading likes this drama, they may also like Dr. Koto! The protagonist is very different, but the island life, medicine, and characters (maybe not quite crazy in Dr. Koto…I can’t remember) parts are similar :)

    I also looked at the top 10 post and really will take a second look at some of the suggestions. Is there an updated top 10 post? Some good stuff has come out, like Rich Man Poor Woman…or maybe it was done and it just didn’t appeal…wait, how could it not!?
    “Hana Ikusa” (not new, but it is incredible, and somewhat educational) is just gorgeous–even if it’s not your cup of tea it’s an exemplary Japanese reply to the US movie “Memoirs of a Geisha.”

  • Jonathan Harston

    Argh! I can’t stop thinking of it as Flying Doctors…. On Boats!
    (Flying Doctors was an Aussie mid-afternoon soap opera about, erm, an airborne medical service)

  • noisyninja

    The show looks like a lot of fun, I love that the nurse hits him on the head with an empty plastic bottle every time he says something cool/serious!! There was a boat in Alaska with just a doctor and nurse on it that would go around to some of the coastal islands, mostly for inoculations and check-ups, definitely not as sophisticated as this ship. The US Navy also has several hospital ships that are really huge! I’m not sure about other navies, I would imagine some of them have the same kind of thing, but the US one is more of a global aide thing.


    I guess I know how to answer your question about Toda Erika! I was surprised to see her in the same drama with Matsuda Shota, actually. I heard that after finishing Liar Game, he said he doesn’t work with her anymore, because she’s moody and acts like a queen (or should I say a “drama queen”? ;-) ). So I wouldn’t expect to see many scenes of them together there.. But anyway let’s find out in the next episode!

  • John

    Haha that’s hilarious. I had no idea.

  • John

    Maybe once I find 10 more dramas that I think are good enough to make a quality updated list with new entries. That probably won’t be for a long time, haha.

  • simplyshiny

    your avatar reminds me of the print Jen has in her office in the IT crowd….I’ve been looking for it forever! Any idea what it is or who it’s by?

  • Mami

    Great article, John! Sorry that I couldn’t find a lot of info for you though(T_T) I was actually surprised to learn of such a ship in Japan. I didn’t know that! Do you know any sites that I can use to watch Japanese dramas with English subs for free??

  • Jonathan Harston

    It is! Some years ago I did a web search for something like “IT Crowd Jen’s Office Geisha”, and found a screen shot with it in the background, cropped it out and redrew it. Doing a quick search shows other people seem to have done the same. You can grab my versions from Apparently, it’s a piece by Jules Mann called “Geisha”.

  • mayucchi

    Woah, I didn’t know that. Had to google it:

  • Jamie Grant

    I use

  • Sarah

    The Red Cross has some fully equipped hospital ships I believe. I remember seeing them on the news after the earthquake in Haiti.

  • Sushi Sussie

    I love this show and dying to download the song at the ending of the drama. Tried shazam by the title is written in Japanese. Can you by any chance know the english title and the name of the artist? Please I’m begging you! :-)

  • John

    I think it’s Taiyou no Megami by Leo Ieiri.

  • Ruruko

    Can the number of patients be correct?
    542,000 would be almost 1,500 persons per day…

  • Dan

    Fascinating! Anyone looking to watch A Clinic on the Sea with English subtitles can find it here:

  • mai

    I’ve been watching this drama to EP 10… Love it, absolutely.
    And just found out about your article. Very interesting info. Thank you very much for doing this! Wait to hear more from ya!

  • LilAyu

    This was a very good program. I discovered it on Hulu. They seem to carry a good deal of Japanese/Korean programs with subtitles from DramaFever channel. I agree the show was very formulaic and thought I would get tired of it. The characters were so effervescent and honest, especially Mako. She had several layers and it was interesting to watch this character. The show is complete and I’m pleased with the ending.
    It’s very good to see and learn about Japan culture, especially about the hospital ships that care for island residents that are unable to travel. House calls from doctors is rare and it is great that Japan continues this program. Quite expensive but well worth it. Thank you for sharing your information.

  • jurrasicet

    I think that Matsuda Shota doesn’t want to work with Toda Erika is just a rumour =/
    Since she and Matsuda is quite close, she even called him Shota in a Liar Game interview. ( Calling by the last name means that they are quite close to each other in Japan). this is just my thoughts though.
    I hope Matsuda and Toda had more screen times because i ship them together in Liar Game ^.^