Christ calls, Asians respond

Lent series 2024

Japan

Trusting in God brings Japanese psychiatrist back from the brink

By Asami Ohmoto

March 22, 2024 03:46 AM

Takanori Sakakura, who chose St Luke, a physician, as his baptismal name, says this trust has eased the 'difficulties in living'

Takanori Sakakura will be baptized at the Easter Vigil at Ube Catholic Church in Japan's Yamaguchi prefecture on March 30

Takanori Sakakura will be baptized at the Easter Vigil at Ube Catholic Church in Japan's Yamaguchi prefecture on March 30. (Photo supplied)

Takanori Sakakura, 53, is a physician preparing for baptism at Ube Church in Yamaguchi prefecture in Japan. He says that he has been able to move from “living a life of self-effort” to “living a life of trusting God,” and that his “difficulties in living” have been eased.

As a psychiatrist, Sakakura supports people who have difficulty living, but in fact, he himself has suffered from difficulties for many years.

Even though he thought about “doing something” from his late teens, when he was in high school he withdrew into his home when he felt depressed. Eventually, he stopped going to school and dropped out of university. Even after getting a job, he was repeatedly absent from work without permission.

His parents labeled him as “lazy,” “not serious,” and “not trying hard enough,” and Sakakura fell into self-loathing, repeating a vicious cycle with no hope in sight.

When Sakakura was in his twenties, he set out on a journey to travel around the world with the desire to overcome the situation. From China, he traveled to Pakistan and India, and then headed to Kenya, a country that he had been fascinated with since he was a child. There, he participated in the activities of NGOs that built schools and provided medical care.

“I went around villages where there were no clinics or doctors and distributed vaccines to children. I felt a great sense of accomplishment because the children who received the vaccine would not get sick. I myself contracted malaria and became keenly aware of the importance of medical care. I decided to become a doctor.”

"I was stuck in a lot of problems that I couldn’t solve on my own"

He stayed in Kenya for three and a half years, then went to the United States, returned to Japan, retook university entrance exams, and became a doctor at the age of 37.

Becoming a doctor gave him a great deal of confidence that he could manage if he tried, but it didn't change the “difficulty of living.” His complex mental state of “confidence” and “lack of confidence” continued.

At that time, his younger brother who was subjected to bullying and harassment at work attempted suicide. That was 10 years ago. Sakakura wondered if there was anything he could do for his brother. Since he wanted to do something for people suffering from depression, Sakakura chose to specialize in psychiatry.

“However, there was only so much I could do, and I was stuck in a lot of problems that I couldn’t solve on my own, including my brother. Unable to find a solution, I quarreled violently with my wife, which hurt our children, I had trouble with my job, and I began to ‘escape’ to alcohol. I was drinking more and more, and before I knew it, I was an alcoholic.”

However, it was his alcohol problem that triggered change in Sakakura's life. He was connected to a self-help group for alcoholics and participated in a recovery program.

At first he was relieved that he was cured of his illness, but, he says, there is a big difference between “understanding with your head” and “actually living it.”

"There is a way of living that entrusts everything to an existence beyond oneself"

“Eventually, I became depressed again, wondering why I couldn’t succeed when I was trying so hard, and four years ago, I thought of choosing death in a fit of rage.”

Sakakura recalls, “I felt guilty that if I left my family to die on my own, it would be a betrayal of my wife and children. It was precisely because I hit this ‘bottom’ that I really changed my way of life 180 degrees.”

In the process, he learned for the first time that “there is a way of living that entrusts everything to an existence beyond oneself,” and felt “salvation.” Sakakura said that he felt that there is “a warm God who always watches over me.”

Then, in May of last year, Sakakura decided to start attending an introductory course at Ube Church. The parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) resonated with him the most.

“In the past I didn't have a regular job and was repeatedly unfilial to my parents, so I was just a prodigal son.” The image of the father in the Gospel who warmly welcomes his son who has committed debauchery, points to “the presence of God who forgave me even when I wanted to die. I felt hope.”

"I used to get depressed, always worried about the future because I was overwhelmed by anxiety. But now I trust in God and it’s easier to live."

Sakakura, who chose St. Luke, a physician, as his baptismal name, wants to share his experiences with the people of the church, and has a new dream of one day practicing medicine in Kenya.

Takanori Sakakura will be baptized at the Easter Vigil at Ube Catholic Church on March 30.

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