Starry, starry nights for Japanese hospital patients

Patients and their family members were mesmerised by the image of a million stars projected onto the ceiling of a room at Kyushu University Hospital.
Patients and their family members were mesmerised by the image of a million stars projected onto the ceiling of a room at Kyushu University Hospital.PHOTO: THE YOMIURI SHIMBUN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

Anything that can help hospital patients in Japan relax and reduce the stress they and their families are feeling is bound to be popular.

This includes planetarium shows.

Although just how planetariums are enjoyed depends on the individual, some audience members are compelled to reflect and think about the universe and their lives.

A planetarium show was held at the Medical Centre for Child Health at Kyushu University Hospital in the city of Fukuoka last year.

The windows and doors of a playroom for sick children were covered with black paper.

The 73 sq m space was turned into a makeshift darkroom for an audience of about 20, comprising children and their family members.

PAINLESS MAGIC

During the event,  I forgot my pain and anxieties.  

A PATIENT, on the planetarium show at the University of Tsukuba Hospital.

Once the lights were turned off, an image of a million stars was projected onto the ceiling.

"Wow!" exclaimed some of the audience members.

Engineer Takayuki Ohira, who produced a planetarium that holds the Guinness World Record for projecting the highest number of stars, spoke to the audience.

"These stars are in the night sky at 9pm. Although this is a real part of the universe, we can't actually see such a large number of stars," he said. "This is mainly due to air pollution, city lights and the limitations of human sight."

Mr Ohira, 46, also told the children the folktale of Orihime (Weaving Princess Star) and Hikoboshi (Cowherd Star), who meet once a year during the Tanabata star festival.

Mr Ohira added that there are countless stars and planets in the universe, including Earth. He said that among them, there may be ones similar to Earth.

The show lasted 20 minutes.

Seven-year-old Ameri Momii, who had been hospitalised for more than six months, said: "The stars were beautiful. I felt like I was really under the night sky. I was so excited."

The show was organised by Mr Kazutaka Okuda, 22, a third-year student at Kyushu University's School of Medicine. He was engaged to hold such productions at hospitals with the aim of reducing the stress of patients.

He decided to use a planetarium as he felt it would be good to "use images of the endless night sky inside hospital wards, which tend to make patients feel cooped up".

Mr Ohira and others took part in the event as volunteers, so the only costs incurred were for renting the machine and other related devices.

Similar planetarium shows have been held at St Luke's International Hospital in Chuo Ward, Tokyo; and the University of Tsukuba Hospital in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture.

At the St Luke's International Hospital show, a live piano performance created a fantastical mood during the talk about the stars. Patients said they enjoyed this combination.

The show at the University of Tsukuba Hospital was also warmly received. When asked for his impressions, one patient said: "My worries about my disease have been halved."

Another said: "During the event, I forgot my pain and anxieties."

An elderly patient said that his mind was calm when he thought about the endless universe.

Another senior patient said: "I felt as if I was standing alone under the night sky. The time I spent quietly thinking about my life was meaningful."

The effects of the planetarium show also extended to the patients' family members, with one saying: "I have been exhausted and depressed after taking care of my loved one, but this was healing."

A medical staff member said she hoped another show would be held because "it provided a sense of healing and left a positive impression on the patients".

Hospital patients often cannot go outdoors due to their poor health condition and this can raise various anxieties.

Professor Yasuhiro Ito, who specialises in physiology at Fujita Health University, said: "Even a planetarium for home use can lower the heart rate and activate para-sympathetic nerves. These effects can relax people."

Mr Okuda plans to hold planetarium shows in hospitals in the Kansai and Tohoku regions from April, as well in Tokyo and Kyushu.

THE YOMIURI SHIMBUN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 07, 2017, with the headline 'Starry, starry nights for Japanese hospital patients'. Print Edition | Subscribe