Pioneers in Diversity (Part Two):
Tsukiji and the Foundation of Japan's Modern Hospitals

The dawn of Tokyo's modern-day diversity traces back to its early beginnings as a capital, when foreign missionary doctors established the foundations of Japan's modern hospitals. Read on as we delve into its little-known history.
Director R.B. Teusler (left), Head Nurse Araki Iyo (center), and Deputy Director Kubo Tokutaro (right). Photo: courtesy of St. Luke's International University

For some three decades following the Meiji Restoration, Tsukiji flourished as a settlement for foreign residents in Tokyo. Located in what is now Akashi-cho, Chuo City, St. Luke's International Hospital boasts a century-long legacy that echoes this era. A pioneer of modern hospital practices, it laid the foundations for comprehensive nursing education in Japan. We spoke with Yabu Sumio, who has dedicated 40 years to St. Luke's International University and currently serves as executive director of the non-profit organization Tsukiji Foreign Settlement Historical Society.

Yabu Sumio in front of the Teusler Memorial House. Photo: Fujimoto Kenichi

Dr. Rudolf Bolling Teusler, an American missionary physician, founded St. Luke's International Hospital  in February 1901 and dedicated himself to the development of Japanese healthcare until his death in 1934.* As part of the American Episcopal Church's mission to spread Christianity in Japan, it successively dispatched missionary doctors from the United States. Yabu explained, "The hospital traces its roots back to 1884, when Bishop Williams, the first bishop of the Episcopal Church in Japan, opened a pharmacy and clinic at the settlement's Block 37, within the educational institution he founded there, Rikkyo School (present-day Rikkyo University)."

St. Luke's International Hospital was established on the grounds of the American Episcopal Church. Photo: courtesy of St. Luke's International University

Training Doctors and Nurses as Equals

In 1900, Teusler arrived in Tsukiji to find only a modest clinic with no facilities. A year later, he had opened the area's first hospital as its director. During preparation, he met Araki Iyo, a Japanese graduate of St. Margaret's School. Araki had studied nursing and medicine at a Canadian-mission nursing school in Kobe and worked as a nurse for missionary Irene Mann in Tokyo. Teusler recognized her talent and encouraged her to train in the United States.

A monument to Teusler at St. Luke's International Hospital in Akashi-cho. Photo: Fujimoto Kenichi

"In America, the belief in equality between doctors and nurses meant that nurses also needed qualifications. What's more, good nurses were considered essential to quality healthcare—there was, as a result, a need to train individuals capable of educating nurses," said Yabu. Araki became the hospital's first head nurse upon her return and began training nurses. In 1904, she established a nursing school, known today as St. Luke's School of Nursing, to provide a comprehensive nursing education program, primarily to graduates of the mission school.

A class at the nursing school, 1932. All classes were conducted in English. Photo: courtesy of St. Luke's International University

At the urging of Teusler, distinguished physicians from both Japan and overseas joined the hospital, leading to an influx of patients from distant regions. Within a decade, the hospital evolved into a full-fledged facility with over seventy beds, covering a breadth of medical specialties.

In 1911, Teusler's advocacy for humanitarian healthcare and philanthropic spirit were rewarded by Emperor Meiji with a commendation and floral tribute. Teusler continued to safeguard the hospital through challenges such as the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 until his death at the age of 58, two years before the completion in 1936 of the magnificent Gothic-style chapel he had long championed.

St. Luke's International Hospital introduced to Japan novel concepts rooted in American medicine, such as comprehensive nursing education, and public health and social service initiatives. Teusler's remarkable passion was a pioneering force for diversity in the medical field, and the hospital thrives as a prominent institution in Tokyo today.

Teusler's Gothic-style chapel still stands to this day. Photo: courtesy of St. Luke's International University

Teusler's hospital was initially founded as St. Luke's Hospital, changing its name to St. Luke's International Hospital in 1917.

See Part One: Turning the Tide—Girls' Education in Tsukiji

Yabu Sumio

Executive director of the Tsukiji Foreign Settlement Historical Society. Joined St. Luke's International Hospital in 1978 as an administrative staff member, before transferring to the St. Luke's International University Archives. Contributed to the compilation of archival materials such as "Eighty Years of St. Luke's International Hospital" and "St. Luke's International Hospital: A history on the occasion of its centennial," and exhibitions at the Teusler Memorial House and other facilities.

References: Shimizu Masao, Tokyo: Tsukiji kyoryuchi hyakuwa [Tokyo: A Hundred Stories of Tsukiji Foreign Settlement] (Toseisha, 2007); Seiroka Kokusai Byoin 100-nenshi Henshu Iinkai ["100 Years of St. Luke's International Hospital" Editorial Committee] (ed.), "St. Luke's International Hospital: A history on the occasion of its centennial" (St. Luke's International Hospital, 2002)

Interview and writing by Kubodera Junko
Translation by Alex G. K. Pulsford