Mieko Kamiya

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Mieko Kamiya
Born Mieko Maeda (前田 美恵子?)
(1914-01-12)12 January 1914
Okayama, Japan
Died 22 October 1979(1979-10-22) (aged 65)
Occupation psychiatrist, author and translator
Nationality Japan
Spouse Noburo Kamiya (神谷 宣郎?)
Children Two sons; Ritsu Kamiya (神谷 律?) and Toru Kamiya (神谷 徹'?)
Relatives Tamon Maeda (前田 多門?) (father), Fusako Maeda (mother), Yoichi Maeda (前田 陽一?) (brother) and Masaru Ibuka (brother in law)

Mieko Kamiya (神谷 美恵子 Kamiya Mieko?, January 12, 1914 – October 22, 1979) was a Japanese psychiatrist who treated leprosy patients at Nagashima Aiseien Sanatorium. She was known for the translation of books on philosophy. She worked as a medical doctor in the Department of Psychiatry at Tokyo University following World War II. She was said to have greatly helped the Ministry of Education and the General Headquarters, where Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers stayed, in her role as an English-speaking secretary, and served as an adviser to Empress Michiko. She wrote many books as a highly educated, multi-lingual person; one of her books, titled On the Meaning of Life (Ikigai Ni Tsuite in Japanese), based on her experiences with leprosy patients, attracted many readers.



She was born as the second child and the first daughter of five children of Tamon Maeda and Fusako Maeda. Tamon, a son of Osaka merchant, became a bureaucrat of Interior Ministry after his hard study. He was a Christian and learned Christianity under Kanzo Uchimura.

Fusako, a daughter of raw silk trader in Gunma, received scholarship for five-year-study at girls' high school of Friends School (Japan) in Tokyo, that was established by Religious Society of Friends (Quaker), Fusako had English and Christian education there. Fusako was introduced Tamon from Inazo Nitobe and was married with Tamon in 1910.[1]

Tamon moved to Nagasaki and in 1920 became a deputy mayor of metropolitan Tokyo city. In 1921 he was appointed the Japanese representative to International Labour Organization (ILO) at Geneva, Switzerland, where Inazo Nitobe worked as one of the Under-Secretaries General of the League of Nations. Mieko educated at Jean-Jacques Rousseau Institute (in French: Académie De Genève or Institut Jean-Jacques Rousseau), when Jean Piaget, a developmental psychologist and philosopher known for his epistemological studies with children, was administrated the school as the principal. From 1932, she studied at junior high school of the International School of Geneva (in French: Ecole Internationale de Genève). She later wrote that in reading and writing, French was most easy.

Emiko had started to study English from her second grade at Sacred Heart School in Tokyo from 1921. Kamiya family speaks English when they arrived in Geneva.

In 1926, her family returned to Tokyo. She entered the Juyu Gakuen, but changed her school within few months to the Girls' High School of Seijo Gakuen (now it has higher education department; Seijo University).[2]

Higher education[edit]

In 1932, she entered the Tsuda College. In 1934, she happened to visit Tama Zenshoen Sanatorium as an organist accompanying a missionary. She was deeply impressed with leprosy patients there and felt that she should someday work for them. At that time, leprosy was an incurable disease, and all around her were against her becoming a physician. In 1935, she entered the College of the same school. She contracted tuberculosis, and while treating the disease, she studied by herself, classical literature in many languages, in Italian, French, German and Greek. Especially her favorite was Marcus Aurelius's book which she translated into Japanese later. Her tuberculosis cleared with pneumothorax therapy.

In 1938, Japan set up a Japan Culture Center in New York, in view of the worsening US-Japan relations, and her father, who was one of the editorial writers of Newspaper Asahi Shimbun, was appointed as its head and the family moved to New York, except her elder brother, Yoichi Maeda who had been resided in Paris. Mieko began to study Greek literature at Graduate School of Columbia University and lived with her family in Scarsdale, New York. After her health condition improved, Mieko moved to Pendle Hill in Philadelphia and studied at Bryn Mawr College from February to the end of June 1939. She met with Masa Uraguchi, who was a graduated student of botany at Philadelphia University and became her lifetime best friend, and with Wilhelm Sollmann, who was a German journalist, politician, and Interior Minister of the Weimar Republic, Mieko had close relationship with Mr and Mrs Sollmann until June 16, 1939. Mieko also had close relationship with Caroline C Graveson, an English psychologist. She said to Mieko when Graveson was leaving the United States: "I predict your future. You'll be an author after you graduate from three M (Medicine, Marriage and Motherhood)."[3]


In 1940, she began to study medicine with the approval of her father at the premedical course of Columbia University. In 1941, she returned to Japan and entered Tokyo Women's Medical University in fear of the coming war. Her father returned after the beginning of the US-Japan war in an exchange ship. In October 1942, she visited Masao Oota or Mokutaro Kinoshita who was an authority on leprosy research at Tokyo University and visited Nagashima Aiseien Sanatorium and spent 12 days there; she met Kensuke Mitsuda and other staff and reconfirmed her interest in leprosy patients. In the fall of 1944, she graduated from the medical school and entered the department of psychiatry of Tokyo University, because of her interest in psychiatry; one of her friends developed schizophrenia. In May 1945, her house was burned down and she had to stay in the University, treating patients.

After the war[edit]

After Japan's defeat in World War II, her father was appointed Minister of Education, and she was asked to become a secretary. She could speak fluent English and translated many papers. Her work continued after her father resigned in January 1946. In May, she returned to Tokyo University and helped to examine Shūmei Ōkawa who was a prisoner of International Military Tribunal for the Far East.

In May 1946, she was married to Noburoh Kamiya, an instructor in botanical research at Tokyo University. In 1949, he was appointed Professor at Osaka University and their family moved to Osaka. She translated Marcus Aurelius Antoninus's book, which was published. Her husband was invited to teach at University of Pennsylvania where he used to study, but she and her two children remained in Osaka. She earned money for living expenses for their children, who had contracted tuberculosis, by teaching French.

In 1951, her family moved to Ashiya. In 1957, she started her studies in psychiatry at Nagashima Aiseien Sanatorium and she became a Ph.D. in 1960, based on her studies there. In the same year, she became Professor at Kobe College and in 1963, also Professor at her Alma Mater Tsuda College. She taught not only psychiatry but also French literature. In 1965, she became chief psychiatrist at Nagashima Aiseien Sanatorium. Her unique studies included her visit to the husband of Virginia Woolf and also to Michel Foucault in 1966. She published her representative book "On the Meaning of Life ("Ikigai Ni Tsuite")".[4]


She died on October 12, 1979 by heart disease at age 65.[5]

On the Meaning of Life (Ikigai)[edit]

Her most known work is described in the Japanese Wikipedia article, On the meaning of life (ikigai).[6]

According to Mieko Kamiya, the Japanese word "Ikigai" means two things; the object itself and the feeling of the one who feels Ikigai. The latter may also be called Ikigai-kan (Ikigai feeling). When a person considers what their Ikigai is, they are likely to consider the following questions.

  1. What is my existence for? Is it for someone?
  2. What is my purpose of my existence? If there is any, am I faithful to it?

Ikigai may be felt most when what a person wants to do is also their duty, when the answers to questions 1 and 2 are the same. However, there are people whose Ikigai differs from what they do to make a living. In trying to forcibly match these, they may become nervous, may develop reactive depression, or even commit suicide.

Kamiya stated that those who have firm Ikigai would be those who realize their own mission, or purpose in life, and who are deliberately progressing toward their goals. They are usually not distinguished persons; they may be teachers at secondary schools, or those engaged in special education, or those working in hospitals in remote areas. If they are too busy or are otherwise unable to be faithful to what they should be, this spoils their Ikigai most. What is important is pursuing their purpose, not whether or not what they accomplish their goal. They will be satisfied even if they die, if they are on the road to the accomplishments; but if they are not faithful, they cannot die satisfied.

According to Kamiya, when a person discovers a new theme for their existence, this theme should be in line with their true nature. The decision is very important, and if there is trouble in the decision, neurosis, or a pseudo-way of life, or even suicide may result. A new theme of life may be related to the former one, or may be a totally different one. An example might be the change from love for a human to love for God. This change in the theme of existence may be referred to as replacement of passion. Paul Gauguin may be cited as someone who experienced this, as he started his career as a stockbroker, but went into drawing art at the age of 35.

According to Kamiya, the fundamental role of religion is to give a person unified standards of value, or Ikigai (meaning of life).

Her works translated into Japanese[edit]


  • Virginia Woolf. An outline of a study on her personality, illness and work. Kamiya M. Confin Psychiatr. 1965;8(3):189-205.
  • The existence of a man placed in a limitsituation. An anthropological analysis of a paranoid case in a leprosarium. Kamiya M. Confin Psychiatr. 1963;6:15-52.
  • Psychiatric studies on leprosy. Kamiya M. Folia Psychiatr Neurol Jpn. 1959 Jul;13:143-73.


  1. ^ "『遍歴』 Henreki ("My Journey" in Japanese)", Mieko Kamiya, 2005, p.53-56, ISBN 4-622-08184-9
  2. ^ "『遍歴』 Henreki ("My Journey" in Japanese)", Mieko Kamiya, 2005, p.7-74, ISBN 4-622-08184-9
  3. ^ "『遍歴』 Henreki ("My Journey" in Japanese)", Mieko Kamiya, 2005, p.102-165, p.278-305, p.334-335, ISBN 4-622-08184-9
  4. ^ "『生きがいについて』 ("On the Meaning of Life" in Japanese)", Mieko Kamiya, Misuzu Shobo, 1980, ISBN 4-622-08181-4
  5. ^ "『遍歴』 Henreki ("My Journey" in Japanese)", Mieko Kamiya, 2005, p.347, ISBN 4-622-08184-9
  6. ^ 『生きがいについて』 みすず書房、1980年。ISBN 4-622-08181-4

External links[edit]