Sunday, October 25, 2009

Beyond the Blossoming Fields--the story of Japan's first female doctor

Jun'ichi Watanabe. Beyond The Blossoming Fields. Translated by Deborah Iwabuchi and Anna Isozaki. London: Alma Books Ltd., 2008.

R. Stuhr

Blossoming Fields is the biography of the first female doctor trained to practice western medicine in Japan. This story, a bestseller in Japan and translated into English by my favorite translator, Deborah Iwabuchi and her colleague Anna Isozaki, presents Ginko in all of her bravery, hard as nails determination, and ego. Born into an important landed family, Ginko was married in the traditional manner of the time, but was unlucky enough to contract gonorrhea from her husband. She left her husband's household to return home to be cared for by her own family. Her illness served to magnify her unhappiness with her status as wife and even after she recovered she refused to go back to her husband--subjecting her family to the ignominy of a divorce. Her illness and recovery were the motivation for her medical pursuits. Seeking a cure, she and her mother went to Tokyo to visit a doctor trained in western style medicine. Ginko is mortified by the internal exam and this leads to her desire to become a doctor so that women have the option of being examined by a female rather than a male doctor.

The path is anything but smooth. Ginko is disinherited by her family, lives on almost nothing and studies at all hours so that she will be the top student in all of her classes. Watanabe leaves no doubt about the nearly insurmountable obstacles she had to overcome. It was not illegal for women to attend medical school or to practice medicine, but it was not done nor acceptable in the society. It took years for Ginko to get into medical school and then she experienced both verbal and physical abuse. Somehow, despite poverty, starvation, threats, and isolation, Ginko achieved her dream and opened a clinic in Tokyo where she treated both men and women. Ginko attended to her patients and her staff with fiery moral zeal. She was loved and hated. No one seemed to get past her very private personality until, following her conversion to Christianity, she meets a young man who has aspirations to set up a Christian utopia in the far north of Japan. She finds her self in the midst of another controversy when she decides to marry the younger man and eventually leave her practice to join him in Hokkaido.

Ginko’s life is never easy and in the end, her greatness was in what she achieved to become a doctor and in the door she opened for other Japanese women to do the same.

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