As Japan’s densest foreign enclave, Tokyo’s Roppongi neighborhood is a study in contrasts. On the one hand, the district is home to some of the country’s finest dining and most luxurious hotels, which attract the well-heeled and powerful from around the globe. At the same time, Roppongi’s backstreets are teeming with run-down bars and strip clubs, several of dubious legality in both their business licenses and working practices.
But while it’s common knowledge that Roppongi is the place to go for either a pricey bottle of Dom Perignon or a budget-friendly lap dance, you might be surprised to find that you can also receive consummate, compassionate medical care at the clinic of Dr. Evgeni Aksenoff, who’s been treating Tokyo’s international residents and guests for over 50 years.
Aksenoff is a man without a nationality. He was born in the Chinese city of Harbin, where his father settled after fleeing his homeland as a White Russian.
▼ Meaning that he was opposed to the Communist Revolution, and not a mixture of vodka, coffee liqueur, and cream.
Japan would later invade Manchuria, where Harbin is located, and set up the puppet state of Manchukuo, which lasted from 1932 to 1945. It was during this period that Evgeni was born. When Manchukuo was reabsorbed into China at the end of World War II, however, Evgeni, who also goes by the name Eugene, found himself unable to obtain either Russian or Japanese citizenship.
Nonetheless, the younger Aksenoff made his way to Japan following the war. He enrolled at the Jikei University School of Medicine in Tokyo, passing the National Medical Practitioners Qualifying Examination in 1951 and opening the International Roppongi Clinic two years later.
In the ensuing half-century, Aksenoff has treated luminaries such as US president Gerald Ford, French president Jacques Chirac, and ambassador Edwin Reischauer, as well as entertainers including John Wayne, Michael Jackson, and Madonna.
▼ Rumors that Wayne was treated for being “sick with regret” over accepting the offer to play Genghis Khan in 1956’s The Conqueror remain unconfirmed.
But in keeping with the neighborhood he works in, not all of Aksenoff’s patients are wealthy. The doctor sees numerous visitors who likely have less in their bank accounts than the above celebrities have in their wallets. Not only does the philanthropic physician treat the economically downtrodden free of charge, he’s even been known to occasionally help his most needy patients cover their living expenses.
▼ The last time we got compensated for visiting the doctor, we were seven years old.
Perhaps due to his own complicated citizenship history, Aksenoff doesn’t ask his patients to show a passport or proof of legal residency in Japan, which many workers in Roppongi’s entertainment industry lack. All the doctor asks for are name, date of birth, address, and phone number.
▼ Making medical treatment at the Roppongi International Clinic easier to obtain than a membership card at Japanese video rental chain Tsutaya.
In addition to his clinic in Roppongi, Aksenoff previously ran a clinic in Kawasaki, Tokyo’s neighbor to the south. However, the doctor’s unchecked desire to treat as many people as possible landed him in trouble with the law. In 1980, Aksenoff was found to have entrusted a portion of the medical care administered by the clinic to his unlicensed staff, and was arrested for malpractice.
The incident was apparently ruled not serious enough to require the revocation of Aksenoff’s medical license, and he continues to operate his clinic in Roppongi, where he offers consultation and treatment in six languages (English, Japanese, Russian, Chinese, German, and Greek). We’re certain his linguistic skills are deeply appreciated by his patients.
▼ Discussing personal medical conditions is embarrassing enough without the added awkwardness of having to struggle through the phrase “I need you to take a look at this rash” in your second or third language.