My Final Message
On October 6th, the day after Morning Musume’s New York performance, our family boarded a plane headed back to Narita.
Just like on the flight over there, I couldn’t stop producing whinging noises from my throat as I breathed. I don’t think my throat was any more swollen than it had been on the way there, but simply knowing that this pressure I felt in my airways was cancer made breathing considerably more difficult.
“Are you okay? Do you want some water?“, my wife asked me worriedly. Nothing seemed to make my breathing any easier. I already knew perfectly well that I would have to undergo surgery to get rid of this newly metastasized cancer — and surgery meant removing a part of my larynx along with the cancer. “Can they do it by cutting off just a part of it, or will they have to take it all…?“
Even thinking about it as optimistically as I could, I knew they’d probably have to remove at least the left vocal cord. “How much of a voice does one have left when you take away half their vocal cords? Will I still be able to sing if I do lots of rehabilitation? Maybe I could still do something with my voice, even if only at karaoke. But if the cancer has spread further than that… Oh, gods of song, will I not be able to sing any more? I wanted to keep singing forever. If you’re going to take singing from me, then please, please, at least let me have half a voice.” I was praying in my heart the entire way home.
“At any rate, my professional singing days are over.” I knew it somewhere deep within me, but I just couldn’t fathom something so absurd being true — something like that couldn’t possibly happen to me. My mind refused to believe it. But it didn’t matter what I thought. I knew it wouldn’t change the reality of the situation.
I had to give up the thing I’d most treasured as a singer, and choose life.
“Losing the ability to sing will be a hindrance to doing my job, but surely there are ways to work around that. If I go through with the surgery now, I’ll live. That has to be good enough! I’m in no place to be bargaining for any more than that!” That’s the pep talk I was giving myself.
In my mind I’d already reached a conclusion, but my heart was still hesitating. “Maybe somewhere in this world there’s a qigong therapist who I don’t yet know about who’s able to cure any and all illnesses? Maybe there’s some wonder drug out there that will give me the miracle I need? Or maybe tomorrow when I wake up I’ll discover that this has all been just a bad dream and I’m able to speak just fine?” I was coming up with these crazy, unrealistic manga scenarios…
The flight from New York to Narita lasted over 14 hours. All that time I kept asking myself this same set of questions as I silently bid farewell to Tsunku♂ the singer.
By the time we finally landed at Narita, my breathing was so shallow my body wasn’t getting enough oxygen. I had considerable difficulty breathing and I had a terrible headache. However, I’d managed to avoid a catastrophe on the level of “suffocation to death” that my doctor had warned me about before the flight. I’d made it back to Japan alive.
I felt that somehow I would be okay if I just made it back in one piece. Upon landing at Narita, however, my breathing was so bad we immediately headed to the hospital of the doctor who I felt would probably end up performing my surgery.
It was a different hospital from the one where I’d had my biopsy performed, and this doctor was who I first consulted regarding my cancer once it had been discovered. I’d told him that if at some point it was necessary for me to undergo surgery for it, he was the doctor I would ask. Still, I never had the slightest inkling I would one day actually have to have my vocal cords removed. I naturally assumed I would never see this doctor again.
Once we got to the hospital, I got them to examine me right away. Sure enough, they told me that the swelling on my vocal cords was so bad, I was experiencing respiratory failure. To cure my breathing difficulties, they’d have to secure my airways by making an incision in my trachea. That was the only option I had. The doctor went on: “If we do nothing, there’s no way of telling when you’ll start feeling pressure again, and that is a very serious risk to your life. Surely you agree that we have to ensure your breathing so you don’t suffocate to death.“
However, once they’d made the incision to my trachea, I wouldn’t be able to speak again before the surgery on my cancer. In my case, surgery doubtlessly meant cutting off parts of my vocal cords to remove the cancer. Thus, if they’d end up removing my vocal cords in their entirety, it meant I would never speak again once they’d made the incision.
We went home with plans to go back in a few days, but the next morning I was still having so much difficulty breathing, I ended up being hospitalized. It was October 8th. I don’t have many memories of that morning and I don’t really recall what I was doing. Once I was hospitalized, they did a blood test, a general bacteria test, an ultrasonogram, a CT scan, a radiogram, an electro-cardiogram… all kinds of tests.
My tracheotomy was scheduled for that afternoon. The operating surgeon approached me. “I had a look, and the cancer is still visible only on the left side. However, I do not know how far the cancer cells have spread. I do believe a complete removal of the vocal cords would be the safest option, but I understand that it is a big decision considering your line of work. I’m going to have a closer look at the test results and think about when and how we ought to perform the surgery. There is some time. Please think about what you would like to do regarding your vocal cords. For now, let’s just make sure you keep breathing.“
He did not specifically state that he wanted to perform a full removal. However, by this time I already knew. I could sense it.
“He means that I’m going to have my vocal cords removed once and for all.“
I was aware that a complete removal would dramatically improve my chances of long-time survival. The reason the doctor hadn’t strongly insisted on it must’ve been because there are some patients that still prefer to have some kind of a voice left. He must be the kind of doctor who respects his patients’ feelings and doesn’t force his own opinions on them. Sure, as the patient, a part of me felt that had the doctor put his foot down, that might’ve made reality easier for me to accept. But even so, I felt that it was more important that I make this decision about my future by myself.
Despite the seven weeks of treatment I’d received in March, I’d stopped improving. I kept feeling discomfort, and if my cancer had started spreading again since July, that meant it’d had time to do so for the past three months. And if it had been doing so, it wasn’t at all difficult to imagine that it might’ve spread quite far. I had to prepare myself for the worst.
In any case, I wouldn’t be able to speak again after my tracheotomy, and so I wanted to use my voice to say some final words to my children at all costs. There was so much I wanted to tell them. However, my breathing difficulties were quickly reaching a limit. The simple act of breathing in and out was hard work, and I only had the tiniest, hoarsest of voices left. Getting even that much out took all I had.
My children arrived at the hospital. The moment they did, the atmosphere became very lively — so much so that it was hard to believe it was a hospital, that I was a patient, and that in a couple of hours I wouldn’t be able to speak anymore. It all seemed like a lie. It felt like any other day.
Slowly, I spoke to my children in a tiny voice.
To my eldest son: “Listen to what your mom tells you. You’re the only man of the house, so you have to be there for your mom.“
To my eldest daughter: “You have a beautiful voice, so keep practicing more. You told me before you’d sing even on your dad’s behalf, right?“
To my youngest daughter: “Learn from your big sister and keep studying hard. I love you…“
I conveyed these short messages to the three of them. Just ordinary stuff, words every parent says to their child. These were the last words I ever spoke to my children using my vocal cords. After that, I said a few things to my wife. As my very final words, I used many different tones of voice to speak her name. I wanted simply to utter her name to make up for the tens of thousands of times I would’ve otherwise said it later in life.
My wife was crying as she listened to my voice.
The tracheotomy was over in about an hour. I was intubated so I couldn’t make a sound, but my breathing was much easier. Oxygen was reaching every part of my body — the headache that’d been caused by the lack of it was gone, too, and finally I could think clearly.
The week leading up to the surgery to operate on my cancer was filled with all kinds of tests, but for me and my wife, it felt more like a time we spent in preparation of the loss of my voice. The results from the echocardiogram pointed to a possibility of the cancer having spread to my lymph nodes. If that was the case, I had to prepare for something much worse. I was terrified.
The cancer that had been so tiny just that past spring had spread to my entire larynx and was now diagnosed as being a stage T3. Even so, my wife was still desperately gathering information, trying to find some way that would allow me to keep my voice. Her entire being was set on trying to find any other method besides the complete removal of my vocal cords. My wife’s feelings helped keep me afloat. I knew I wasn’t alone.
For me, I wasn’t so much concerned about actually getting to keep my voice as I was about how I was going to live my life without a voice; what my life would be like without a voice.
I knew that I had to stay alive for the sake of my wife and children. I’d have time to find ways besides my voice to communicate with other people later. But as a singer, parting with my voice made me very sad. Still, there’s no substitute for life, and there was no substitute for me either. Had I kept my vocal cords and lost my life, that would’ve been it — there’s nothing I could’ve done “in hindsight.” That much I was very sure of. Sure, had there not been any risks involved, I would’ve obviously chosen to keep my voice and keep singing as always, falsetto and all. I’d always been very fussy about my throat and how I wanted my voice to sound, but when they first discovered my cancer, that’s when life became my first priority.
Just the thought of allowing someone to take a scalpel and remove cells from this nature-given throat seemed absurd to me. Indeed, my voice was the one thing I was sure they could never take from me — even though I was basing this on nothing but some feelings of self-importance.
But they did find cancer. I began radiation therapy in March and I could visibly see the cancer shrinking in endoscopic pictures. I believed without a shadow of a doubt that I would get better. I figured I’d probably write a book about overcoming my illness once my singing was all back to normal. “Maybe I’ll actually put some of these endoscopic pictures in the book,” I carefreely thought to myself.
But from June onwards, it was obvious my throat just wasn’t like it ought to have been. Even the doctor telling me not to worry because the after-effects from radiation therapy can come much later didn’t help easing my worries. It could be that somewhere deep in my heart I knew what the outcome was going to be. Perhaps I’d been gradually preparing for the inevitable ever since.
But then I got to attend Morning Musume’s performance in New York. It’s then that I understood: even if I couldn’t sing, if I just put what I want to say and do into my work, that work will remain in this world forever.
There was another thing in New York that caused my heart to stir in a major way. I spoke to my eldest daughter after the concert. “You know, daddy’s voice might disappear soon.“
She asked: “Will you be hospitalized again? Can you still sing if you just have a quiet voice?” She still remembered when I’d had my biopsy in February earlier that year and couldn’t speak for weeks. So I told her: “No, that’s not what I mean. I’ll never be able to sing again. That means I won’t be able to teach you how to sing either.“
“Okay. In that case, I’ll just sing in your stead, too.”
She blurted it out like it was nothing. I don’t know if she fully understood the gravity of what I was saying to her. I also don’t know if she just meant that as in that she would hum songs for me, or if she meant she was going to aim to become a professional singer, or something else. I was still deeply surprised by my daughter’s words. “My child will sing on my behalf.“
I felt grateful from the bottom of my heart for having gone to New York. For the most part, after our 14-hour flight back home, I felt that I already my feelings in order.
Finally, a few days after my tracheotomy, I made the decision that I would undergo surgery to remove my vocal cords completely. The surgery took place a week after I’d become hospitalized. On the night before my operation, I figured I’d probably become really sentimental like a character in some TV drama, but I didn’t feel anything of the sort.
Even now, I still get questions along the lines of “how difficult was it for you before your surgery, knowing you would lose your voice? Were you crying or hitting things?“
But the truth is, I was in no place to be thinking about things like that. This was my life on the line. I was constantly being moved around, and besides, there were no guarantees that after my surgery was over they wouldn’t tell me I only had months to live or something. In fact, I’d be one of the lucky ones if I got away with losing only my voice.
What I wanted was to live. I wanted to get better soon. I wanted my health. I wanted to be with my family forever. That’s all.
That night, I sent an email to my wife from the hospital room.
Thank you as always. By the time you read this, I’ll soon be in surgery.
I would’ve never thought that something like this could happen within my lifetime. But then again, you probably felt that way even more so than I, right?
Even without this illness, I’m sure there have been times when you’ve looked back on the moment you married me and thought “oh no, I really messed up!” Now, with this illness, I’ve brought even more hardship upon you…
But you know, I’m 45 years old now, and I’m going to think of this as a new beginning.
I’m not going to throw in the towel about stuff anymore and say “I can’t do this!” So think of me as a newborn child, and teach me how to do things no matter how many times it takes for me to get it right. Looking back, I know I’ve really failed you on so many points; failures I could’ve easily avoided had I properly tried. But… Okay, let’s not dwell on the past. But please don’t think I’m saying any of this just for the heck of it. From now on, I’m going to keep walking more slowly, taking my time, so let’s continue living a fun life together.
I have you, I have the children, I have friends… I’m truly happy now.
I now truly understand the depth of your love.
I’ll see you later today. I’m going to be just fine!
I’m glad to have met you.
Okay. Good night.
Ah, I’m Alive
I was apparently in surgery for over six and a half hours.
Naturally, I was under general anesthesia the whole time so I don’t remember any of it. On the night of the surgery, the first thing I remember after waking up is seeing my wife’s face and thinking “ah, I’m alive.” The fatigue was visible on her face — it was obvious she hadn’t slept. I thought about how much I must’ve caused her to worry. I grabbed the whiteboard at my bedside and wrote “are you okay?“
My wife responded by bursting out in tears and angrily saying “why are you worried about me at a time like this?!“
They’d made approximately a 25cm incision right around my Adam’s apple. My body wouldn’t move. A lot of tubes were coming out of my face and my body, and of course the area they’d operated on — but also my whole body — really hurt. My back especially was very painful. Even moving just a little bit in an attempt to turn over would send pain shooting all over my body. Plus, I had those tubes in my body so I felt very uncomfortable. I don’t know if it was the nerves in my back or something else, but even just touching the bed brought upon this strange sort of pain which tormented me. It felt unbearably agonizing.
My body felt so heavy, it was like my back was a suction pad attached to the bed. I got my wife to put both her hands below me and try to move them to create just a tiny opening between me and the bed, and that eased the pain just a little bit.
Similarly to when we’d just married and I was suffering from that unbearable headache, my wife made me feel calm and tried to ease the pain even a little as she kept moving her hands below my back. Apparently I was receiving an IV drip of some strong painkiller, but it didn’t seem to be helping. I just felt very uncomfortable. When the nurse came over and asked me to describe the pain, I had a hard time capturing the right nuance just by writing words on the whiteboard. Sure, I was in pain, but it wasn’t just that. It was this kind of uncomfortableness that didn’t translate into words. Even now, as I can just write these words to you, I’m not quite finding the right ones to accurately convey that feeling.
My wife had to take care of the kids, so she made her way home for the night. After she did, the nurse would drop by to check up on me about once an hour.
Two days after the surgery, even though the pain still remained here and there, I could finally be moved from the ICU into the general ward. The human body really is amazing. The pain that had been driving me crazy the previous nights had gone past its peak in just two days.
Once I was moved to the general ward, they removed my catheter and I could finally go to the toilet by myself. It’d only been two days, but it’d felt like a long journey before they could finally take it out. However, as the operation had been done around the neck, when I tried to move it felt like my neck area and above wouldn’t move along with the rest of my body, only resulting in shooting pain instead.
My head felt five times heavier than usual, so getting up from a laying down position was incredibly difficult. I’d use my hands to support my head and slowly try to make my way up, but I was terrified that I’d end up tearing the wound on my neck and my head would just flop down and flap around behind my back.
The Meaning Of
Aside from my vocal cords, the doctor also took some nearby lymph nodes and thyroids during my operation. When the test results indicated the cancer hadn’t spread to the lymph nodes — the area the doctor was most worried about — even I had to admit I was glad to hear the news.
In theory, it meant that at this point there was no more cancer in my body. True, they’d told me I was cancer-free before and yet it came back. There are no guarantees. But I no longer had my vocal cords that were as if infested by cancer, and it hadn’t spread to the high-risk lymph nodes either, so for the time being I could breathe a sigh of relief.
I thought I’d take a moment here to explain a little bit about what it means to have your vocal cords and larynx removed completely.
Firstly, you of course become unable to make sound. Voice is produced through your left and right vocal cords colliding with each other, with the resulting sounds exiting through the mouth. Since I no longer have those vocal cords, there is simply no sound produced.
However, just because you lose your voice doesn’t mean you can’t speak at all. There is a type of machine available explicitly for this purpose: the electrolarynx. Once this device is pushed against the neck, it can pick up on the vibrations and carry the sound through it, allowing you to speak just like you would using your vocal cords. Another way is to have surgery to replace the vocal cords with a kind of tube (a shunt tube) to act as replacement vocal cords. Yet another way is to use the esophagus instead of vocal cords, which is called esophageal speech. These are the main three methods.
All of these methods have their advantages and disadvantages, but as for me, I’m currently learning how to employ the esophageal speech method. It’s also entirely possible that future medical developments will one day bring about other viable options, such as vocal cord transplants or using your own cells to build new vocal cords.
A total laryngectomy also means the loss of the valves in your throat. In other words, when you’re eating food or drinking water, it can end up not only in your esophagus but also your trachea, leading to breathing difficulties. That means you have to be careful when eating or drinking so that this doesn’t happen. You have to be consciously aware of your esophagus. You have to pull the trachea to the front and clear the way by opening the hole at the base of your neck that’s approximately the size of a one yen coin.
This hole is called a trachea stoma, and it is created during the laryngectomy operation. The stoma, much like your mouth, is something that never fully closes. It’s permanently open. So if a substance like water enters it, it can end up directly in your lungs. You have to be very careful about this. Put simply, this is the biggest risk of having a trachea stoma: getting water into it and suffocating to death.
Since the trachea stoma is at the base of your neck, I can’t get immersed in water up to my shoulders anymore when I’m swimming or taking a bath. While I can no longer speak, at least my body is now healthy. However, total laryngectomy has made it so that I can’t enjoy swimming in the sea or the pool with my children anymore, and that’s something I feel very regretful about.
To talk about some of the smaller gripes I have, I can no longer slurp down noodles which makes eating them more of a hassle. Smelling things is more of a challenge. There are various little things like that, but that’s pretty much it. I still communicate with others on LINE, other SNS services and email like nothing has changed, and I feel like the people I talk to aren’t actively conscious of my laryngectomy when we’re talking. It seems like it’s only when we meet face-to-face that they remember. “Oh right, this guy had an operation.“
All Tubes Removed From My Body
While I was hospitalized, waiting to get better, I was also receiving guidance to make the upcoming transition to my new home life without a larynx as smooth as possible. I was taught about things like how to shower and bathe, how to care for my stoma, what to watch out for when eating, how to massage my lymph nodes, and how to rehabilitate my arms that had weakened due to the surgery.
I wanted to get back not only to songwriting, but I was also thinking about sorting out the mountain of photos of the kids that had been piling up on my computer. However, I quickly found that I’d become surprisingly busy with my new curriculum. Before I’d noticed it, a week had flown by since the operation and they could finally take out all the tubes from my body. Not only did it make movement a lot easier, but I also looked a lot less like a sick patient, and this really helped me feel more at ease mentally.
The thing I was having the most trouble with around this time was eating.
My esophagus had only just been sown shut, so eating something solid might have torn the stitches which would’ve then required more surgery. But the bigger problem was that the pathway had become narrower and I wasn’t having much luck getting anything through it. Plus, since I’d been through seven weeks of chemotherapy in March, the area where they’d performed the surgery was very, very stiff.
I believe there’s a big difference between people who have this surgery performed before any radiation therapy versus people who get it done after. My esophagus, my neck and my back were all incredibly stiff. I couldn’t move my neck in the slightest. If the average person can rotate their neck something like 240 degrees, I estimated I could move mine only 120 degrees or less. If one of the kids called out my name, I had to move my entire body to face them. The ability to move my head upwards and downwards was also considerably worse. Even today, over six months since the operation, I can still feel the effects of this. It’s gotten better with rehabilitation, but there’s still some stiffness left.
Getting food down my throat presented a serious challenge what with the stiffness. As it hadn’t been long since the operation, the affected area was still inflamed as well. This stiffness along with the fact that my esophagus had only just been sown shut made eating bothersome, tiring, and scary. Eating had truly become a burden.
One thing that was easy to get down was cold Weider in Jelly. It was perfect to fill up the stomach of someone like me who wanted to eat but simply couldn’t. Solid food, even something like a bowl of thin rice porridge that resembled baby food, would take me half an hour to finish. And nothing tastes worse than cold hospital porridge. It comes with no side dishes at all, and I’m quite certain even a healthy person would have trouble getting it down.
Eating was incredibly bothersome. And yet, I was hungry. I hadn’t been eating much before the surgery either, so ultimately my body weight had dropped from around 62kg down to 52kg. My wife was doing all she could to get me to gain weight. She brought me homemade foods like carrot juice, soft boiled chicken, soup with condensed vegetable flavors, and other healthy soups. When she first told me she was going to bring me juice with garlic and carrot in it since it’s good for you, I fearfully imagined having to drink some unappetizing juice-like thing that was made by simply throwing raw garlic and carrot in a mixer.
But she’d seasoned the carrot juice with apples and lemons among other things. It was delicious and completely different from what I’d expected. The garlic, too, was simply one of many ingredients in her soups. To think that a part of me had already made peace with the fact that I thought I was going to be drinking nothing but raw garlic and carrot juice until the day I die…
Eating was a huge obstacle, but with my wife constantly bringing me easy-to-eat, delicious foods, dinner time gradually became something I looked forward to. Little by little, I started eating larger portions.
One evening, she brought me a soup of vegetables and soumen noodles. Without even thinking about it, I was eating the noodles like it was nothing and my wife, surprised, pointed it out to me. “Hey, you can eat noodles just fine!” Like I wrote earlier, patients who’ve had their larynx removed can’t eat noodles the normal way of slurping them down with vigor. My wife was happy for me. “How great is that?! Being able to eat noodles like normal means you now have so many more options as to your diet.“
Similarly, I’d been warned about some patients experiencing loss of their sense of smell. I won’t say it’s quite on the level it was before the illness, but once I got the knack for it, I’m now able to smell things to an extent. Regardless of it being a complete removal of the larynx, some people are still able to do things like gargling or blowing their nose. Even things that shouldn’t be possible become possible if you believe that you can do it.
At my esophageal speech training sessions, the people teaching me have all undergone a total laryngectomy like myself. During breaks I get the opportunity to share experiences with them. There are other “beginners” as well who’ve started practicing around the same time as me, and while we’re all of different age groups, we’ve all been through the same experiences under the same circumstances. Spending time with others like me has become a source of support, too. There are so many people around the world suffering from different types of illness, but for me to be able to spend time specifically with this group of people is because we’ve all been through laryngeal (or esophageal) cancer and undergone a laryngectomy.
But I digress. Allow me to say this, though. A laryngectomy does not mean the end of everything, and lots of people are cured of cancer simply through radiation therapy. But even if you do have to go through surgery to have your vocal cords removed, there are plenty of people who have mastered the esophageal speech method and can work in an average office like anyone else. Having learned about this, I decided that I didn’t want to lose to my predicament either.
To everyone who might be going through these same experiences: I realize that there are so many difficult things you must endure, but let’s keep fighting together. Never give up.
Back To Work!
Once they’d taken out all the tubes, the kids started dropping by at the hospital, too. When we ate together, they’d cheer me on by going “just a little bit more, daddy! Do your best!” When I’d finally finish, they’d say “mommy, look! Daddy ate all of it!” These were the same exact words I’d been saying to them not long ago.
As my day-to-day life started to normalize, I began making progress with work as well. I’d check up on all the unread emails, send detailed instructions, and I got back to songwriting, too. Although I had been mentally preparing for the shock of no longer having a voice after my surgery, I really did not feel very sentimental about it when I finally got back to writing songs. Well, perhaps it’s more accurate to say I didn’t have time to feel sentimental.
I was worried about something else, that being the direction my work life was going to go from there. “What kind of jobs will I be offered from now on? I guess I won’t be making any more media appearances at least. If I can’t keep doing what I’ve been doing so far, I guess I should start looking for a magazine or newspaper that’ll let me publish a serialized column or something. No, I should concentrate on going around introducing myself to record labels and try to get them to hire me to write songs for them.” And so on.
I was also anxious to know how my company had done financially in 2014 and was thinking of things I could do right away to help revive it the following year, but nothing I was coming up with seemed like the way to go. Since I was serving as the president of the company, I had the futures of my staff to worry about, too. It’s only obvious they were worried about what awaited them, seeing their president in that state.
After about a week after announcing my complete remission, I announced that the cancer had recurred, and with that the job offers had stopped, too. I knew, though, that waiting around would only lead to more missed opportunities.
I only had two jobs lined up for me at that point: producing the newest game in the Rhythm Tengoku series, and producing the entrance ceremony for Kinki University. I’d started work on the Rhythm Tengoku game years earlier and the project was nearing its end. But my production of Kinki University’s entrance ceremony — something I’d been responsible the previous years as well — had been agreed upon right after the announcement of my complete remission.
I had my staff contact Kinki University and deliver a message for me. “Thank you very much for your offer to have me produce your opening ceremony next year as well. In response to your request, I have to let you know that I am currently hospitalized, but that I intend to be in good health by April. However, there is no way to tell for sure — I can not guarantee that I’ll be able to make an appearance at the ceremony in person. However, if you would still like me to do it regardless, me and my staff will do our utmost to produce the ceremony. If these terms are agreeable to you, I would be happy to take on this project. Please let me know what you think.“
Kinki University replied. “Your health is of the utmost priority. Please do not overexert yourself. If you can not personally make an appearance or be on stage singing with everyone, that is quite alright. What we want is truly a new, groundbreaking opening ceremony for our university, and your ideas are necessary to make that happen. You would have our university’s full support, including that of the students, and we are willing to take on any sort of challenge. So if you feel that it is not too much of a burden during your time of recuperation, we would like to ask you to be the producer.“
Me, my wife and my staff felt grateful from the bottom of our hearts. I sent them my reply. “Thank you so much for your kind words. I can not find it in me to deny a request such as yours. Please allow me to take on this project.“
I had produced the opening ceremony the previous year as well, but I couldn’t make an appearance as I was receiving radiation therapy at the time. Regardless of causing them that disappointment they nevertheless asked me back the following year, and I felt that I owed it to the university to give them my best. I thought about the general proceedings of the opening ceremony, about the KINDAI GIRLS who would be appearing at the ceremony that day, about the arrangements of the songs the brass band club would be performing, about the overall theme and concept of the opening ceremony itself, about the video footage I wanted to be used during the opening… I immediately began a back-and-forth discussion about these things with the university staff via email and LINE.
Before the surgery, I had no time to worry about the state I would be in afterwards, but now that it was behind me, I started to think about how I wanted to be healthy when appearing in front of the students at the opening ceremony. “I don’t know if it’s actually possible. But, maybe… just maybe…“
However, I was literally all skin and bones at that point. Nerves that ran around my neck had been cut during the surgery, so raising my arms was difficult. There was some numbness on the right half of my face — I had what looked like a constant worried expression on my face. My wife, who caught me looking at myself in the mirror and sighing, said “let’s set the April opening ceremony as our objective. We’ll work hard and get you back to your old self before then!“
“So that I can appear at the opening ceremony.” That became like my motivational slogan.
Me and my wife began to move forward together. Every day I ate in a desperate attempt to regain the weight I’d lost. With the support of my wife and my children, I gradually got better with each passing day. Less than two weeks after my surgery, it was time for me to go home. “Wait, already? I can go?” I could hardly believe it. Most patients like me are apparently hospitalized for three to four weeks post-surgery, but I was eating just fine and the doctor suggested that I might prefer being home.
And so, with the doctor’s words of encouragement, I left the hospital.
Going To A Concert Five Days
After Leaving The Hospital!
The day following my discharge from the hospital was my 46th birthday. Being able to spend my birthday at home surrounded by my family felt deeply satisfying.
While I was hospitalized, my wife would spend almost every night there by my side. She’d wake up at around 4:30 in the morning, being careful not to wake me, go home, make the kids’ lunch boxes and send them off to school, finish all the household chores by afternoon, and then head back to the hospital. It must’ve been a tough schedule to keep. She really went through a lot of hardship for my sake.
I wanted to do something to make my endlessly devoted wife happy in exchange. Thus, I invited her to go and see TOKIO’s tour finale together — my wife had been a huge TOKIO fan since before we’d even started dating. Prior to that, TOKIO had personally invited us to go and see them on their tour that summer, and I’d told them I’d definitely catch one of the concerts. I was in no place to be even thinking about going to see a concert during my time in the hospital after my surgery, but since I was released earlier than I’d anticipated, I thought “why not?“
My wife resisted. “You only just got out of the hospital. You’re in no state to be going to any concerts!” I pressed her. “No, I think going to the concert would actually really cheer me up, so let’s go together!” Truth be told, even I thought attending a concert would be slightly reckless of me. But, as it turned out, going to see TOKIO really did bring my spirits up. It made me think “okay, I need to get better soon, too!” It gave me strength. Music truly has the power of making people happy.
My wife was catching glimpses of me throughout the concert, making sure I was okay. My wife, worried about me even at her favorite band’s concert… noticing her doing so, I felt that I wanted to get better as soon as possible so she wouldn’t have to mind me anymore. “And then I’m going to make her even happier than before!“, I thought to myself.
I got a chance to catch up with the members of TOKIO backstage before their concert. I still remember how warmly they all greeted me. “You look a lot better!” “I’m so glad!” “I’m happy you came — I know you were only just recently released from the hospital!” I was so skinny I must’ve looked like a completely different person, and yet, they didn’t mind at all. That indescribable humanness is something I love about the personalities of those TOKIO guys.
Back when I first made my cancer announcement, I was happy to receive kind-hearted messages from lots of people. “Do your best! You have my support!” But among those messages, I received a colored letter from TOKIO that simply said “let’s do this!” at the center. When I saw it, I remember thinking “this is amazing. There are no words in the message to imply that it’s directed specifically at me. They’re not saying it like it’s somebody else’s problem — it’s like they’re picturing themselves in my position.“
As we were going back home from the concert, I sent an email to TOKIO’s manager, thanking him for arranging our seats. He replied: “The members were really happy that you could make it. The guys were talking about how if you’re ever throwing a home party or something of the like, they’d all be very glad to be invited.” I told my wife about this and she was of course happy to hear it. “I’ve never thrown a home party before, but now I really feel like giving it a shot!” I assumed the manager had only said it as per social etiquette, so I replied “tell the guys that I’m sure I’ll be well enough to throw a home party before long, so please come when I do.” I received a rather surprising email in return.
“When would you like me to open up a spot in their schedule for you?“
“… Wait. What? For real? They’d seriously come over?!” New Year’s was just around the corner, so even if it did eventually happen, I pictured it happening sometime around spring next year. Then they sent me another surprising email. “I’ll tell you what. I’ll make it happen within the year!“
And so, in mid-December, the members of TOKIO all took time out of their schedules and came over to our house. December is generally a rather busy time for performers — it’s the time of the year when everyone is busy with recordings for all the end-of-year/beginning-of-year programs. Yet, these five super-famous guys gave up some of their precious time to come over to our house, and they weren’t even getting paid for it! They really surprised me, and I was deeply moved. I thought to myself, “how long am I going to keep playing the role of this sickly person when even TOKIO is coming over to my house for my sake?“
My wife was a longtime fan, and my children were looking forward to that day, too. That past August, my second daughter who was then 3 years old had seen Leader running in a marathon on 24jikan TV and had become a fan of his ever since. Every day she was asking me “hey, Leader really is coming here, isn’t he?” or “hey, when is Leader coming again?” It was “Leader this, Leader that.“
Being able to see the happy faces of my wife and children would’ve made me very glad in and of itself, but since the guys were coming over, I wanted to make it even more memorable for my family. When the date was finally set, I began emailing back and forth with Nagase, planning a surprise together. Just the fact that TOKIO was coming over to our house was of course big news already and it’s not like that wasn’t somehow enough, but I’d made my family go through so much worry and hardship, I wanted to do whatever I could to make them happy. Nagase understood this and said “well, why don’t we play something? Do you know what your wife’s favorite song is?“
While this is slightly off-topic, I didn’t personally sing or perform anything at my own wedding. Since then, I’d sang several times at friends’ weddings and parties and I’d started to deeply regret not having sung for my wife at my own wedding. Thus, a long time before I even first got sick, I promised my wife that we’d have another wedding party on our 20th anniversary where I would finally sing for her.
I now know that I’ll never be able to keep that promise to my wife. However, I felt that if Nagase was comfortable with it, I wanted him to sing to my wife in my stead. So, I did my research by casually asking my wife what her favorite TOKIO song was.
And then the day had come. The five of them all came over to our house, just like they had promised. There was excited chatting, dining, the members playing with the children, the children dancing for the members — everything you’d expect from a home party! It was a great time. Then at some point one or two of the members stood up when my wife wouldn’t notice, retrieved their instruments, and started setting up.
Nagase spoke. “Thank you very much for the wonderful home party today! And Tsunku, congratulations on your release from the hospital! To commemorate the nine years of your marriage and the ten years since you first met, we’d now like to sing you a song.” TOKIO then performed their song “AMBITIOUS JAPAN!” for us.
It came as such a surprise to my wife, she was instantly crying aloud. My kids, too, were excited seeing the song being performed right in front of their eyes, having been used to hearing it on the CD. We’d planned that they’d do a second song, “Hana Uta,” as well. When talking about it beforehand, Nagase had said to me “Tsunku, feel free to join us for that one if you feel up to it.” Purely from a fan’s perspective I thought it’d make for a much better performance of the song with just TOKIO themselves, so I told him I’d pass. However, at the very last moment TOKIO dragged me up there with them anyway, put a guitar in my hand, and we started to play.
The area around my neck still didn’t feel very stable after the surgery. But while there was some physical discomfort as I played, that session with TOKIO felt shockingly refreshing and enjoyable to me. “Ah, I remember now. This is what music is all about. This is what it feels like playing in a band.” I remembered my high school days when we were all frantically playing together with my friends, giving it our all.
We’d talked about how we wanted to make this home party a kind of an early 10th anniversary party, so the members of TOKIO presented our written oaths with the words that are often recited at church weddings (“for better for worse, in sickness and in health…“) except arranged to our liking. We signed our names, and with TOKIO as our witnesses, they all signed their names as well. My wife was smiling and crying at the same time from being so moved. She looked very happy.
They were originally supposed to stay for an hour and a half, but the members of TOKIO ended up having fun with us for a full three hours. I believe that very special day became a lifelong memory for both my wife and my children, and the same goes for me.
Thanks to that session with TOKIO, I remembered the joy that can be found in performing for someone. I can no longer sing using my own voice, but I realized that even just doing a session with someone can give me so much joy. It can make me feel this happy inside. My children, too, seeing music played live right in front of them, understood just how amazing it can be. I believe it’s thanks to my experience on this day I came to realize that, going forward, I want to be not only a creator, but also a performer who stands on stage.
Being able to appear at the opening ceremony in April was a big goal for me, but to be honest, it wasn’t until our session on that day that I started thinking about actually getting up on stage and performing — just doing something. I believe I simply lacked the necessary confidence and willpower. But that’s when I was able to regain the confidence that had almost escaped from me without me even noticing it. That’s when I formed a clear vision of the ceremony. “I’m going to get up on stage, deliver my congratulatory address, and I’m going to perform the school anthem.“
I feel truly grateful to the members of TOKIO for taking time out of their busy schedules for us that day.
New Year’s was approaching and I felt that being somewhere warm would help with my rehabilitation, and thus I got to experience my first ever New Year’s in Hawaii. Being able to greet the New Year in Hawaii like that, I was thinking “man, I’m like a real celebrity!” It was a slightly embarrassing thought, but we all got to relax, and I even made progress with some lyrics as well. But above all, the warm climate really did loosen up my body and I regained more movement in the area around my neck.
I kept in contact with the members of TOKIO even while we were in Hawaii. Yamaguchi emailed me: “Rehabilitation? Nothing beats kickboxing when it comes to rehabilitation! I’ll introduce you to the gym I use, so let’s go together!” I hesitated. “Kickboxing? Oh please. I wouldn’t be able to do something like that no matter how you look at it.” He kept insisting. “Hey, decide whether or not you can do it after actually giving it a shot! Just come over and watch if nothing else.“
Still protesting, I headed to the gym. “Okay, fine. I’ll just see what this stuff is all about so you’ll stop pestering me about it.” By the time it was time for me to go home, I was drenched in sweat as I was writing my membership application. At first I could only do some moves meant for the very beginners. But every time I went training, I felt like I’d made just a tiny bit of progress, and now I feel very glad to have given it a try.
By February, the pain from my surgery was all but gone and my body weight was up to 58kg. The long-term Rhythm Tengoku project was successfully brought to a finish, I felt like I’d settled down emotionally, and the doctors continued to find nothing wrong with me during my regular check-ups. I could clearly feel myself making steady progress towards recovery.
And so, I gradually kept regaining my physical strength and confidence until finally it was the morning of April 4th, 2015 — the day of Kinki University’s opening ceremony.