Rudy Alforque
South Setauket, NY 11720, U.S.A
Tel: (631) 612-1206
e-mail: click here

[Memories] Memories of Japan


I arrived in Tokyo on a foggy spring day in May, 1973 with Jun Llarena, the other Teijin scholar from the Bicol region in the Philippines. The two of us were the lucky ones to survive a national competition for two scholarship posts out of hundreds of applicants around the whole country. It was sponsored jointly by the Phil. Ministry of Education and Teijin Company which provided the funds. Upon our arrival, our sponsor, Teijin Company, gave us a nice welcome and a pleasant stay in Tokyo. Then, the following day they put us on a shinkansen(bullet train) bound for Osaka where we would start studying and learning the Japanese language.

Teijin Co. had already arranged for us to stay at the dorm of the Japanese International School in Osaka. In the next few months, together with other students from various foreign countries, we were immersed on a crash course in Japanese language -- written & spoken Niponggo -- at the Kansai Kokusai Gakuyukai. We were told that when the language courses were over, the next venture would be for us to separately seek admission to any Japanese university of our choice for further academic technical studies. Hence, after we completed the language courses in six months, Jun Llarena chose to go to his preferred school in Tokyo while I decided to stay in the Kansai region comprising mainly of Osaka. Kyoto, and Kobe.

I moved from Osaka to the International Students House in Misasagi, Yamashina, Kyoto Prefecture, after I gained admission into Kyoto National University as a kenshuin (fellow). I joined the university under the advisorship of a nuclear physicist, Prof. Sakisaka, who was the Chairman of the Nuclear Physics & Engineering faculty at that time. While slowly adapting and learning around the new environment, I became more ambitious and adventurous! I decided to work towards a graduate degree in Nuclear Engineering instead of being just a visiting Fellow from a foreign country. Prof. Sakisaka informed me, however, that I can only pursue a degree and a diploma if I pass the entrance exam given to all applicants. And so, in order to prepare myself for such an arduous task, he assigned me to the nuclear engineering group under Prof. Michiyoshi. In that group, my main adviser was Prof. Hideaki Nishihara who also spoke fluent English, thank God, having had his post-doctoral study in the United States. Needless to say, the next few months were a gruelling struggle to prepare for the graduate entrance examination.

After six months at Kyodai (Kyoto University), I took the graduate entrance exam -- written & oral (in Nippongo, of course) -- to become a matriculated graduate student. After passing the exams, my quest for a graduate degree began in earnest under the tutelage of Prof. H. Nishihara.

During a routine physical exam for students at the university later on, however, the examining physician heard my heart murmur; he immediately referred me to the cardiac specialists at the university medical department. Of course, I knew about my heart defect ever since my elementary grades, but there was nothing my family could do about it. Aside from being prohibitively expensive way beyond our means, it was also very dangerous to have my heart repaired  in the Philippines - at that time it would almost amount to a suicide!  But in Japan, it was a different story. They're more advanced technologically with good equipment and well-trained specialists. So, when the university cardiac specialists suggested and recommended that I should undergo open-heart surgery to repair my heart, after serious consideration, I said Yes. Especially when they assured me that it would cost me nothing as I was covered by a Japanese govt. insurance. But it was not that simple, however. My sponsors, Teijin Co. and the Phil. Ministry of Education, were opposed to the surgery, out of fear perhaps that I might die on the operating table. Eventually, however, I was able to obtain their nod after I executed a deposition that they had nothing to do whatsoever, in case I die during the surgery. 

So, during the spring break in 1975, I underwent an open heart surgery at the Kyoto University Medical Center to repair the congenital ventricular septal defect in my heart. I was primarily under the care of Dr. Michio Yokota, a young and brilliant surgeon, who had spent a few years of cardiac specialization in the United States; he actually trained under the same professor as the internationally known heart transplant specialist, Dr. Norman Shumway, of the Stanford University Medical Center.

The surgical team was under the direct supervision of Prof. Yorinori Hikasa, head of the cardiac surgery division. The other surgeons were: Dr. Muraoka, Dr. Yamada, and Dr. Yokota, himself. The anesthesiologists were: Dr. Urabe, Dr. Mitsunami, and Dr. Shingu. The procedure involved putting my body in extracorporeal circulation, otherwise known as cardiopulmonary bypass, employing the heart-lung machine, and then cutting a small incision through my right ventricle so that they could close off the septal hole by simply stitching it shut.

The surgery was a success, and after only a couple of months I was already back in school. A few months later, I started to learn how to play tennis at our dorm's backyard tennis courts. Now, thru the years, I learned not only to play better tennis but other sports as well. Thanks to Dr. Yokota, and his team, for repairing my heart! Thanks to all my international friends, from all over the world, who willingly donated their fresh blood on the night before my scheduled surgery! And, in general, thanks to Japan, too! Arigato gozaimashita!

In 1976, I completed all academic requirements, and was graduated from the Graduate Faculties with a Master's Degree in Engineering (Nuclear Engineering).