Several years ago, there was a television drama called Doctor Kotô’s Clinic. Although I never watched the program myself, its popularity ensured that even people like me who never saw a single episode would still be familiar with the story.
In Doctor Kotô’s Clinic, Dr. Gotô, a surgeon from the prestigious Tôkyô University Hospital moves to the remote island of Shikina-jima to work as a doctor. The island, which is a six-hour trip by boat from the Okinawan mainland (undertones of Gilligan's Island), has been searching for many years for a doctor who would be willing to live and work on the small island and treat the islanders.
As an outsider, Dr. Gotô is not trusted and no one visits his clinic at first. But, as might be expected from a TV drama, within a few episodes a young boy comes to the clinic because of some ailment and is cured. Out of appreciation for what the doctor has done for him, the boy makes a flag for the clinic, mistaking the doctor’s family name for Kotô, hence the name of the drama. Little by little, Gotô gains the trust and confidence of the islanders and you can probably imagine the rest.
So popular was this drama that many idealistic doctors longed to move to a southern island where life was simple. This includes my wife’s OB/GYN who relocated his family to the island of Ishigaki. Things didn’t go as well for them as it did for Dr. Gotô, unfortunately. Island people can be so . . . well, insular. Their children, all of whom were exceptionally bright—the oldest is a former student of mine who was accepted by both Harvard and Yale universities two years ago—were not accepted by their classmates and even suffered from bullying. They returned a year later to their hometown of Fukuoka, tails between their legs, and resumed the lives they had been for the most part been living rather happily, if not idealistically. Oh well.
Another doctor, a friend of the psychiatrist about whom I have written before, took his medical degree to the island of Tsushima, which is situated halfway between the Korean peninsula and Kyûshû. He has been living there for well over a decade now and seems to be quite content with the life he leads as a rural doctor on the distant island.
No matter how idyllic the setting, however, reality will inevitably intrude, posing practical questions such as what schools you will send your children to, and so on.
As might be suspected, the options on an island like Tsushima are limited, so it was not surprising to learn that the doctor sent his son to La Salle, a famous boarding school run by the Christian Brothers in the city of Kagoshima.
It seems that every region of Japan has a number of schools that are well known throughout the country. In Kyûshû, these include La Salle and Kurume Fusetsu, in Fukuoka prefecture. In Shikoku, Ehime's Aikô is renowned. And then there's Hyôgo's Nada, which is consistently ranked number one among the nation's high schools. Nada, which has in recent years been sending more and more of its graduates to the world's best universities, is the alma mater of my former student whom I mentioned above.
High schools in Japan are ranked according to their hensachi, or their adjusted deviation score. Their w-what?
Having studied statistics in college, I am familiar with standard deviations and the like, but this hensachi has long confused me. he hensachi is a measure of how far one's test results deviate from the average student's score, which is set at fifty. Suppose the average score on a given test were sixty points. A student getting a score of sixty on the test will then have a hensachi of fifty. The better than average a student's score on a test is, the higher his hensachi will be. Think of it as a kind of percentile rank, but not nearly as straight-forward.
A student with a hensachi of, say sixty points, will then be advised to apply to schools with hensachi that are within his range, school's which have entrance exams he stands to pass. There are many exceptions today, but this still system is still widely used.
High schools are ranked according to their hensachiand complete lists are available online. The top five schools in 2012 were: Nada (Hyôgo, 78); Kaisei (Tôkyô, 77); Tsukuba (Tôkyô, 77); O-cha no Mizu (Tôkyô, 76); and Keiô Gijuku (Tôkyô, 76). La Salle has a hensachi of 75. The best public school west of Ôsaka is Fukuoka's Shûyûkan and has a hensachi of 72.
Sending his son to La Salle seems to have paid off for the doctor from Tsushima: his son was admitted to Tôkyô University's medical school earlier this year.
Why am I writing about this doctor, you ask? Because he recently visited my student, the psychiatrist, and gave him a rare bottle of Itô, a imo shôchû from Tsushima, an island more famous for its shôchû made from rice and barley.
Produced by Kawauchi Shuzô Gômei Gaisha, located in Tsushima City, Nagasaki prefecuture
Made from Satsuma sweet potato and kuro kôji.
There isn’t much of the typical potato smell you’d expect from an imo shôchû. Very subtle. Only when you swallow does some of the fragrance come out, lingering in your mouth and nasal passages.
Somewhat disappointing really, not that it tastes bad, but rather because it’s so unusual to get an imo shôchû from Tsushima, you’d expect the flavor to be equally rare. It’s not. The flavor is rather forgettable. The doctor even apologized.
Novelty factor: ★★★★
Hensachi: 40 points
 Originally a manga (comic book) series of the same name, Doctor Kotô Shindansho (Dr.コトー診断所) aired on Fuji TV from July to September of 2003. Japanese television dramas usually air for three months and more closely resemble American miniseries in terms of their length and scope. Doctor Kotô initial run was eleven episodes long.
 Shikinajima (志木那島), the fictional island that is the backdrop of the TV series, is modeled on the island of Yonaguni where the drama was filmed.
Yonaguni (与那国) is one of 32 islands that makes up the Yaeyama Archipelago, a collection of islands that also includes Ishigaki-jima, Taketomi-jima, Kohama-jima, Kuro-jima, Aragusuku-jima, Iriomote-jima, Yubu-jima, Hatoma-jima, Hateruma-jima, and the Sesaseishôko Atoll. Only ten of these are populated and together have a combined population of around fifty thousand people. Only a hundred kilometers from Taiwan, Yonaguni has a population of about sixteen hundred people, including a friend of mine. Yonaguni’s three distilleries (Donan, Yonaguni and Maifuna) produce a variant of awamori known as hanazake (花酒, lit. "flower liquor") which has an alcohol content of 60%. Originally intended for religious ceremonies, hanazake is traditionally consumed straight. Good stuff.
 Despite its size—about the same as Maui—Tsushima has a population of only forty thousand people.
More stories like this can be found in Kampai! Available from Amazon.