In his high school day he often fought with schoolmate or students of other schools and usually beat them. He was the person who wrote the most letters of apology in his school.
Final year of high school Mr. Mito, his homeroom teacher, said to him ‘You are by no means unintelligent. You are just lazy. Even now it's not too late.’ Thereafter he studied hard and was accepted to the Tokushima Medical College to walk the path to becoming a doctor.
After graduated Osaka City Medical College in 1949 (Showa 24), he succeeded to his father’s clinic and became interested in social medicine through his experience as a , which was transformed into a public park member of research and public information committee in a medical association
Dr. Honda’s clinic was located in Shigino, Joto Ward, Osaka. There had been the ruins of Osaka Army Arsenal severely damaged by bombing during WWII, which was transformed into a public park in late 1950’s. Some people lived there illegally and they were good neighbors of him. He had been taken care of them and supported to move from there.
On January 4th 1963 (Showa 38), he was asked to become the fourth director of Osaka Prefecture Saiseikai Imamiya clinic. It was the predecessor of Osaka Social Medical Center, located in commonly called Kamagasaki, the day laborer’s area, Nishinari Ward, Osaka and founded in 1913 (Taisyo 2).
When he became the director, the following agreements were confirmed among Osaka City University Faculty of Medicine, Osaka Prefecture Saiseikai and him. 1, performing surveys and research including public health activities. 2, medical service was left to Dr. Honda and they provided articles, materials, and human resources, 3, all three are equally responsible for discussing important issues. Unlike the former directors who were transferred after their short terms of office, he earnestly dedicated himself to the medical care for poor laborers.
The low or free medical care system was established based on the idea, “You can pay back at your convenience without a reminder”. The poor without health insurance have been offered free or low-cost medical services. He provided medical care for socially vulnerable people and was well known among the people as a Ryokan-sensei or Mr. Ryokan1).
In 1961 (Showa 36), films and TV dramas were made as a model of his life, including “Oheso no Taisyo” (“A Boss of navel”), “Se to hara” (“The belly and the back”), “Osaka yaro” (“Osaka Guy”), etc.
In 1964 (Syowa 39), NHK (Japanese public broadcasting) put “Ryokan Sensei” (“Mr. Ryokan”)(1) on the air in a television serial of “Aru Jinsei” (“A way of life”). In this TV broadcasting, his heartwarming medical care and the people’s severe social situations were described. “Aru Jinsei” broadcasted for six and half years, and the first program was Dr. Honda’s “Ryokan sensei(1)”, which was rebroadcasted two times on September 1st, 2002 (Heisei 12) and August 16th, 2008 (Heisei 20).
Osaka Prefecture Saiseikai Imamiya clinic was reorganized as the Osaka Social Medical Center in 1970, and Dr. Honda assumed the post of first director of this center.
He continued to devote himself to providing medical cares for laborers in Airin (commonly called Kamagasaki) area as a “Nishinari’s Akahige” (“Nishinari’s Dr. Redbeard”)(2).
He provided medical service as a director of the hospital for 15 years until his death of gastric cancer on July 1st, 1985 (Syowa 60).
While he was alive, he said, “Donate my body to Osaka City University Medical School and don’t hold a funeral.” But the funeral ceremony was held as Osaka Social Medical Center funeral in Rinnanji Kaikan located in Nagai Park in Higashi-Sumiyoshi Ward, Osaka. About 80 laborers in working clothes with sandals and rubber boots gathered and rushed over his funeral by the buses all the way. They said that he had plenty of heart for them. A total of about 1000 people offered flowers and were reluctant to part from him.
(1) Ryokan is another pronunciation of his first name. And also there was a renowned Soto Zen Buddhist monk, called Ryokan in the Edo period. He loved neighboring poor people, lived simple life and didn’t play up to the power all his life.
(2) Mr. Akahige (The Tales of Dr. Redbeard, 1958) is a hero of the historical novel written by Shugoro Yamamoto and a Japanese film directed by Akira Kurosawa in 1965. Mr. Akahige is a medical doctor and takes care of poor people in Edo period.
The 100th anniversary magazine of Yao senior high school “Profile”
Home page of Osaka prefectural Yao senior high school reunion
The article of Sankei Shimbun on December 17th, 1997 (Heisei 9)
The 25th anniversary magazine of Osaka Social Medical Center