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Interview with Dr. Taiji Hasuda, Director of Jikei Hospital, who created the “Kounotori Cradle” (December 13, 2007)

Interview “Taiji Hasuda, Director, The Jikei Hospital” 10,639 characters (10 minutes to read)
Thirteen years ago, I interviewed him for an article about the background of one of my novels.

Taiji Hasuda, President and Director, Jikei Hospital, Seigokukai Medical Corporation
Thursday, December 13, 2007

The impetus for KOUNOTORI no YURIKAGO (The Cradle of the Blackbird)

Our hospital was founded in 1898 by the Catholic Franciscan Order of the Missionaries of Mary.
Therefore, we do not perform abortions. We have had so many pregnancies that we could say that the only people who come to our hospital are those who have the joy of pregnancy and the hope of having a baby.
However, at some point in time, society began to talk about postpartum people becoming depressed, and there were reports of mothers killing their children, and at first I did not understand why mothers would do such things.

In our hospital, we rarely saw people suffering from depression, but the number of postpartum depression is increasing, and the medical association has come to realize that it can cause major problems. We have created a system in which we call people, listen to their stories, and make home visits to those who seem to have concerns. In 2002, we started a 24-hour telephone counseling service for those who were having problems with pregnancy and other issues during certain times of the year. In the first year, we received 10 calls, 26 at the most, and they were very serious.

In 1993, the Tokyo-based Center for Respect for Life asked its members nationwide to donate one-yen coins that they had lying around at home, and began relief activities with the money collected.


Baby Clappe “Kounotori Cradle” originated

Then, there was a report that 1,000 babies were abandoned in Germany every year, and that in order to save them, a baby clappe (baby post) had been established in Germany in 2000, where babies could be left anonymously. I visited many places and found that in Germany, the way of thinking about life is greatly influenced by religious beliefs. They take good care of their babies from the time they are carried in their bellies.

That is, according to the German Basic Law, the state must protect the human rights, life, etc. of its citizens, and this extends even to the baby in the belly, which in Japan has no human rights until after birth. Therefore, if a baby is killed in a traffic accident, the perpetrator is not held responsible. There is a big difference in the way of thinking about life. Germany has a large Christian population, and I believe that religious beliefs have a great deal to do with this.

At first, Japanese media reports said that 1,000 babies are abandoned in Germany each year, but only about 40 babies are actually abandoned, and of those babies found, half are dead and half are found alive. At the time of our visit, 70 baby cradles had already been established, and according to our calculations, a baby cradle is filled once every two years, and although four years had already passed since its establishment, the number of babies placed there had not increased. The opinion was that they did not feel inclined to do so.
When I asked him if the number of places was too many for 40 or so babies, he turned red and said in a very fast and furious tone, “What a way to talk about life!


How the German version of the Kounotori Cradle works

In Germany, we visited one public hospital, two private hospitals, and one nursery school.
We thought it would not be too difficult to operate in a hospital because the workers are there 24 hours a day. However, private daycare centers work only during the daytime. So I asked, “How much does this cost per year in expenses?” They said it would cost 8 million yen per year. We thought that a day-care center business would not be so profitable, so we asked, “Do you receive any money from public funds or other sources?” He told us that the business is made up of donations from the general public and charity concerts. I asked, “If it were only the first year, we might be able to raise money, but if it were every year, wouldn’t we be in the red?” He replied, “Yes. When I asked him what he would do in such a case, he replied, “I would borrow money from the bank. I had thought that banks would not lend money unless they could make a profit, so I asked, “Why would banks lend money to you?” He surprised me by saying that he borrowed the land and building of the day-care center as collateral to operate the center.

In Germany, when a baby is placed in care, they publicize that it has been placed. Then they receive donations. The nursery is run by a woman, and across the street there is a garbage dump, with several large boxes lined up in a row. She felt that something had to be done about this, so she started Baby Clappe. This is despite the fact that Baby Clappe is not a publicly funded program at all. The director of the school was a young man. The other directors, including the president, were all women. I also found out from the report that they are building not only Baby Clappe, but also a facility called “Sunflower House” to protect mothers and their children. That facility is also operated by collecting donations. I was amazed and marveled that German women are great and amazing.


A foster parent is dearer than a real parent

Another thing that impressed me in Germany is that if the babies in their care are healthy, they are raised entirely at home. In Japan, babies are first placed in an infant home through a child guidance center. In Germany, however, all babies are placed with foster parents unless they are ill. If the parents do not come forward after eight weeks in the foster home, the baby is adopted as a biological child. (It may be with the foster parents or another place that they put the child up for adoption.) At that time, I still didn’t really understand the difference between raising a child at home and raising a child in an institution. Then I asked, “What would you do if a handicapped child was placed in your care? What happens in the case of external surface deformities (babies with recognizable deformities)?” When I asked, the number of applicants increased 15-fold. I wondered if this was really true.

In fact, we received a consultation from one of our clients who was unable to raise her child on her own, and while we were monitoring the course of her pregnancy, we suspected that there was an abnormality in the brain of the fetus. So, we had been examining her progress for a long time, and we found that she was not in a state of progressive brain abnormality, but she did indeed have ventricular dilatation. We approached the family about adopting a child, but there were no applicants in Japan for a child who had abnormalities from the beginning. So we consulted with a foreign priest. I was surprised to learn that he wanted to raise the child, but I was grateful that he was a foreigner living in Japan. After the child was born, I examined the child in detail by MRI, etc., and fortunately there were no abnormalities. However, I realized then that there are people in other countries who want to raise children even if they have abnormalities.


Save, not throw away.

I had the feeling that a baby clapper would save lives. I have been working at Jikei Hospital for almost 40 years, and when I had only been here a few years, one baby was abandoned. The baby was left early in the morning under the eaves of the priest’s house, where the priest of the Catholic Church lives, just a few blocks from the hospital. At that time, I immediately took him in at the hospital. Since I had only experienced one case of an abandoned baby, I thought that there were probably not that many abandoned babies in Japan yet. This was a surprise to me.

So I decided that we had to start baby crappie as soon as possible, and I requested the police, Kumamoto City, and the prefecture to cooperate with us in our plan to set up baby crappie. However, the then Minister of Fertility Control said, “This will aid crime and encourage abandonment. It would lead to crime.” The police were of the opinion that the baby would be placed in a safe place, and that they would check for criminality and would not investigate if there were no abnormalities. After that, the mayor and the relevant officials went to consult with the government, and since the response was not cordial, the city had a very difficult decision to grant the permit.
In Germany, it does not mean that every single permission was obtained before it was made.

In Japan, it currently requires a permit from the public health center to change a part of a hospital to a different use than it had been used for before. The government said it was not illegal and there was no reason not to permit it.

The legality or illegality of the matter is not against the installation of baby crapes, but against the change of use of the hospital, which is the scope of the hospital’s licensing. It seems to be a question of the baby’s human rights and whether it would violate the parental responsibility for the baby’s abandonment. Mass media reports told us that it could be in conflict with the law. Therefore, we have discussed what laws would be violated. Furthermore, we told them that parents must protect their children. However, it was reported that by making baby craps, we could be in violation of abandonment and aiding and abetting, and that we could be aiding and abetting abandonment. Even if you make the equipment, the mother is still guilty of dumping the baby on the street and depositing it in a safe place. Therefore, I think we need to convey the concept of “save them instead of dumping them” as we have on our website.


Germany fought the administration.

Currently, children placed in our care are raised in an infant home for two years. After notification of protection to the Child Guidance Center, we will work with them. When equipment is installed, maintenance costs, communication costs for consultation, personnel costs, and when this is calculated in detail, the hospital bears a considerable burden. So if this were done at a nursery school, for example, it would cost more than 8 million yen per year. However, the nursery did not provide consultation services. Our hospital focuses on consultation services, which means more personnel expenses. That is a burden on the hospital.

There is no movement at this time for other hospitals to install baby clappers. This is because this is not a revenue-generating activity. We are doing this on a volunteer basis, and if it were institutionalized and subsidized by the government, it might be possible, but in the current difficult financial situation in Japan, it may be difficult to spread this system because it is not cost-effective to do so.

Another reason for the lack of spread is that the Japanese government is still at a loss. Unlike Japan, Germany is very combative with the administration. You have to be willing to do that much to make it happen. If you are forced into various obstacles, there will be no progress. That is why there are still many things that need to be done. Right now, the administration is critical because this is the first time they are doing this. All they do is talk about whether or not they announced it, disclosure of information, ethics, and whether or not it encourages abandonment, but they never talk about the social environment, such as why people abandon babies, or what should be done to make babies happy.


About five times more lives saved.

As for future issues, the hospital staff is now the only one working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. For some reason, calls for serious consultations come in late at night, so staff members keep their cell phones by their bedsides and are available 24 hours a day. In fact, we have saved about five times more lives than the number of babies entrusted to our care.
And serious consultations take a very long time.

There is also a verification meeting to verify that the program is being operated properly and correctly, the babies entrusted to the program, and the consultations. Since each consultation is complex, there is quite a lot of paperwork involved. First, notes are taken. Then we need someone to organize the records. Then we have to hire new people. The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare has instructed local governments nationwide to strengthen their counseling systems for pregnant women and postpartum women, and Kumamoto City has strengthened its counseling system, hiring nine people.

The city also publishes about the consultations it has worked on. And when we check to see if the consultations have actually been properly resolved, we find that the number of cases that have been resolved is higher than ours. Consultations do not end after just one session, but are a continuing process. You don’t want to talk to more than one person about your serious problem. At first, there will still be interruptions. Then they call you several times and you have to listen to them carefully. When the person in charge changes, you have to start the conversation all over again.
In our case, the same staff consistently listens to them all the time, which is why they eventually resolve the issue. However, the city has 9 people in charge and they seem to change one after another, so it is difficult to continue the conversation.


From donations of one yen to large sums of money (according to Director of Nursing Department Tajiri)

We have had many different people donate to us with warmth and sympathy from all of you. They asked us to use the money for their babies. I have learned about the goodwill of so many warm people.
I am an office worker. I am an office worker and would like to donate even a small amount every month,” or “I am a child and an elderly person who constantly collects 1 yen, 10 yen, and 100 yen for the baby’s sake.
Also, the hospital has a store, and they suddenly brought 10 or 20 dumplings every day, saying, “I don’t have any money. I don’t have any money, but please use the proceeds from the sale of these items for the cradle.

A woman in her 60’s has donated a large sum of money to help us. I do not believe that baby crappie is a job that should be done by the government. I used to be a public health nurse in the government before I came to this hospital, so I understand. The Jikei Hospital was originally started by the Franciscan Friars in 1898 to help patients suffering from leprosy, so the sisters of the Franciscan Friars, the missionaries of Mary at that time, did not ask for any compensation, and they treated the leprosy patients who were lying around there without any compensation. Later, a law called the Leprosy Prevention Law was enacted, and national relief began. Our philosophy is purely to give a hand to the babies’ lives and the women who are in need there.


The opposite of love is indifference.

When Mother Teresa came to Japan, she said, “Japan is a very poor country in spirit” and “Economically rich, but it is an abortion paradise. The activities of the Center for Respect for Life began with the desire to protect the life of the baby in her belly. Later, when Mother Teresa came to Japan, she went to a school and said, “The opposite of love is not hate. It is indifference.


You’re gonna kill my kid twice.

In Germany, there was some opposition to the installation of “baby clappers”. They thought they were going to kill the child twice. The first time, they abandon them and kill them; the second time, when the children grow up, they want to know who their parents are, but since they are anonymous, they don’t know who their parents are and suffer from their problems. So he thought he was going to kill them twice. They had that kind of opposition. Some of the objections that came to us were similar. However, it seems that children raised in a loving home do not suffer from not knowing who their real parents are. However, children who have experienced serious sadness and pain in the process of their upbringing seem to have a strong desire to search for their parents.

The difference between a child raised at home from early on and a child raised at an institution is that the people at the institution do their best to raise the child with deep affection, but at the institution, they leave when their working hours are over. In other words, you have to say goodbye to them even during the day. Also, women quit after getting married. The person you thought was your parent is gone. This is very shocking for the children. Then, after two to three years, they move to a nursing home, which is a completely different environment this time. The staff is not the same as the one you had before, and you are thrown in with a bunch of big kids. Then they cry and scream for about two to three weeks. And even if these children are suddenly placed in a home, it will take them a long time to adjust.


Japan has little awareness of the foster care system

The person who is taking care of our place has welcomed five children.
And what it takes to create a strong parent-child bond is the time it takes to come to you. For example, if a child is raised in an institution until the age of 3, it takes twice as long for the bond and trust between parent and child to be established. So I think it is better to enter the home as soon as possible. So I would suggest that the child should be in the home by at least about 3 months.

I have seen mothers bring their 3-month-old babies in their arms, and the babies are babbling to the mother’s face, actively talking to her in a language they do not understand. Then the mother also looks at the child’s face and calls out to him or her. In truth, we think that if we could get into the home before this happens. That is what I am appealing for now here and there. I think it would be better before the child recognizes his mother, because attachment between parent and child is easier the earlier the child is attached to his mother.

In Germany, there is an anonymous birth, although it has not yet been institutionalized. The purpose of this program is to encourage mothers and their children to give birth at facilities, even anonymously, because giving birth at home is dangerous for both mother and child. Mothers are able to reconsider and want to raise their children on their own. Various assistance schemes for mothers and children are explained.

Over the course of two years and six months, 150 people gave birth anonymously, 60% of whom were still willing to raise the baby themselves; 20% informed us of their names, and the other 20% remained anonymous.
In Germany, if there is no contact from the parents, the child is adopted. This means that even if they are not the parents who gave birth to the child, the child is being raised healthy and blessed with the love of the parents. The big difference between Japan and Germany is that children are raised at home, not in institutions. I would like to appeal and convey this to the world as a major issue for the future. In Japan, there is very little awareness of the special adoption system.


Lives Saved by a Single Phone Call

As a matter of fact, 20 welfare-related civil servants from Taiwan came to visit us the other day. They were puzzled when they heard that in Japan, abandoned children are raised in institutions. Japan, Korea, and Cambodia have facilities (not private homes, but dedicated facilities). Everyone’s awareness is such that having an institution is taken for granted, so we have no choice but to change it little by little over a long period of time.

I believe that the future of the children entrusted to our care must be happy. For that reason, I think a family is the way to go. Those who are currently consulting with us and who are unable to raise their children will be adopted. And there are now 20 people who have been consulted who will raise the child on their own. However, there are some cases where we just can’t raise the child. I used to think that children cannot choose their parents, but I now realize that this is not true. For the child, there is a difference. In short, one phone call for a consultation and the fate of the life saved is heaven and earth. There are many people who want to have a baby, who are not blessed with a baby, who have been through infertility treatment with no results, and who still want to have a baby and raise a child. So when I look at the babies that have gone to those families, they are like my own children. They are so real parents that I can’t even imitate them. I believe that children are born with such a destiny. I feel that a child’s future will change depending on how he or she is raised in the family, not on who he or she is born to.


Children can choose their parents.

There are actually people who want to become foster parents, but they do not know where to ask. There are 7,500 prospective foster families registered in Japan with the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. However, the Japanese system does not easily lead to adoptions. Right now, the Child Guidance Centers within the government play this role, but they are too busy dealing with abuse cases to be proactive in the foster parent system. So, even though we have registered with the Child Guidance Center, we have received about 190 e-mails, phone calls, and letters from people who want to become foster parents, saying that no babies have come for seven or eight years after they registered with the Child Guidance Center, and after the “Kounotori no Yurikago” report, Jikei Hospital has received about 190 inquiries about the program. So, when I think that there are children’s lives that are saved because of these consultations, I think that we must do something about the situation where many babies are being abandoned because of lack of consultation.
Also, a sixty-something year old man came to visit me the other day who said he himself was adopted and raised by his adopted family. His adoptive family consisted of his parents and his disabled sister (adopted). His sister passed away when he was 20 years old, and he said that his parents did their best to raise both of them and loved them very much. She said, “I am glad I was adopted.” I am glad I was adopted.” She said that she would go before the media to talk about this. In other words, it is not about birth but upbringing.


The parent-child bond is not all inborn.

Since it is still early days since the start of “Kounotori no Yuriko” (Cradle of the Young Cherry), it seems that the Child Guidance Center will not be able to give children up for adoption until a year or a year and a half at the earliest. Babies placed in KOUNOTORI NO YURIKAGO will go to an institution, and it will be some time before they are reunited with their foster parents. So it is easier to connect with an adoptive family if there is prior consultation. That is why we ask the private sector.
I thought from watching my own grandchildren that the earlier a child enters the family, the better the parents and the child will get along. I have several grandchildren, but my daughter’s grandchild, who is a girl, has a violent personality. She does not listen to what her parents say. She is a girl, but she doesn’t listen to what her parents say. Her father is kind and does not scold her, but her mother is very strict.
Even when they come to me, there is still a part of me that thinks that if such a child came to me for adoption, the parents would still mess with him or her. But I have raised them since they were babies, so they are cute. I guess it’s the bond that we share from the time we are small.

One day, someone visited this hospital with an adopted child. We were surprised to hear that he was adopted, because we didn’t know he was adopted and thought he was our real parent and child. A small child would not be quiet. When we were in the parlor talking to the father and mother, the children would run around. I wear a white coat, so I am a little scared and wary of children. When they run around too much or do something naughty, I say, “Let me hold you,” and they get startled and stare at my face and eyes. I say, “Your hands look yummy. When I say, “Let’s upn your hands,” they run away and say, “Oh, mother. Then the mother would hug her child tightly. Watching her do that, I thought that even though they were actually adopted, they were real parents and children. So the bond between parent and child is not only inborn. Motherhood is not something that is innate; it comes from raising a child. It is wonderful to be able to raise a child as one’s own child in the home at an early age. In the adoption system, there are two types of children: regular adoption and special adoption.
In other words, we believe that the babies will be saved the most if we finally reach a point where a system is established where the babies who are placed in care are immediately raised at home.


Children should be raised in the home.

Next year, I would like to speak a little louder and more strongly about the fact that children should be raised in the home. And I want to convey to young people that I want my children to grow up happy in the future, and another thing is that sexual intercourse leads to life.
And about the pill. In the UK, students are given the pill starting in elementary school. There are quite a lot of obese children in England. These children get thrombosis and die. Also, the urine discharged by people who take the pill is discharged from septic tanks into rivers, and the fish in the rivers are affected by it. They say it is a problem as an environmental hormone. And there are 90,000 teenage pregnancies. So now we have a social problem in the UK, and 3/5 of them have abortions. It’s the highest number in Europe. I think that is a lot of abortions because they are on the pill but they are pregnant.

Teenage pregnancy is inevitably linked to poverty. This is not to say that children are not good because they grow up in poor families, but it can be difficult if they are too poor. I experienced poverty when I was a small child during the war, and many families were poor when I was in elementary school, which was good because it was not a time when people were bullied by poverty, but nowadays, depending on the family, if there is a large gap between children economically, I think they will have a hard time mentally. In May 2008, one year after the launch of the “Cradle of the Bean Tail,” there will be a public disclosure of information, and I would like to strongly ask the public to understand the various social backgrounds that led to the establishment of the “Cradle of the Bean Tail.
Although the term “baby post” has been used in the past, our name has been “Kounotori no Yuriko” (the cradle of the rooster) from the beginning. In the future, we aim to create a society that does not need a “cradle”.
For now, we can only wish for the happiness of the children who will leave the “cradle” on the edge. I also believe that the children who will leave the nest with the goodwill and hopes of so many people will grow up to be strong and sturdy individuals who will support the future of Japan.
Let us all warmly accept and nurture these children as children of our society.

… and upwards


Book “Softly in the Cradle” Author: Taiji Hasuda
-Lives of mothers and children entrusted to “Kounotori no Yurikago” at Jikei Hospital Kumamoto