Nurse motivates elderly residents in Shiga to stay healthy

NAKAJIMA Mitsuyo works as a community nurse on Okishima Island, the only inhabited island on Lake Biwa. Okishima is predominantly known as a fishing community, but used to thrive on stone masonry. Because of the declining birthrate and aging population, the number of residents has rapidly decreased from 800 to about 240.

Mitsuyo provides health advice and encourages residents to go for a checkup, making sure that they take care of themselves regularly. Into her fourth year at Okishima, residents now turn to Mitsuyo when they have questions about their health. As a result, the number of people who go for a checkup has increased, whilst incidents of emergency transport to hospitals have decreased.

There are no cars on Okishima Island. Most of the buildings date back to the 1950s, giving the area a nostalgic ambience. The residents are warm and friendly, and their warm hearts heal tired souls. Mitsuyo hopes visitors will find the island a place they want to come back to.

What is the difference between a community nurse and a regular nurse?

A community nurse works directly with the local people, finding out what challenges exist in the community in terms of health issues and what are the possible solutions. Of all the areas in the city of Omi-hachiman, Okishima has a very high rate of aging population. Many citizens make a living on fishery, and it is not uncommon that they are out at sea after dark. I try to identify what obstacles there are in the daily lives of people who live on a remote island.

How did you come to work on Okishima Island?

I used to work in the Kanto Region. I moved to Shiga Prefecture after I got married, and I learnt that Okishima is part of Omihachiman City. I asked if I could become a community nurse on Okishima Island because I wanted to do something where I could apply my knowledge and experience to contribute to the well-being of the local people.

What kind of health-related questions are you asked?

The most frequent question I get is, "What is this medicine for?" So we compare the medicine and its instructions together for confirmation. There are no doctors who can treat emergency cases at night. So I try to help people develop the habit of paying attention to their own health condition every single day.

Can you recommend a scenic spot on Okishima that is worth taking a picture of?

I like the scenery from the pier behind Saifuku-ji Temple. You can see the opposite bank to the west and the sunset is breathtaking. On the other side of the road is Senen-batake Field. There is a narrow path called 'honmichi', lined with houses on both sides and reminiscent of a typical residential street in Japan 60 years ago. It was selected among the 100 Selected Fishing Village Historical and Cultural Heritage Sites.

As a torchbearer, what is your message to the people you see every day in Okishima?

The most popular wish people made at the Okishima Tanabata Festival event was: "I wish to live a long and healthy life". I will run with the wish in my heart that the Okishima people will be healthy and will be able to continue fishing for a long time.