Issue Index

  Mini Features
  Cultural Features
  Life in Japan
  Big in Japan
  Rant & Rave
  Cars & Bikes
  Health & Beauty
  Money Talks
  Tokyo Tech
  Web Watch
  Food & Drink
  Restaurant Reviews
  Bar Reviews
  Word of Mouth
  Travel Features
  Japan Travel
  International Travel
  Tokyo Talk
  In Store
  Japan Beat
  CD Reviews
  In Person



bar news and views

538: Pool party
Keep your cool this summer with a visit to one of Tokyo’s many pools. Metropolis shows you where to take the plunge.
536: Don't sweat it
With the hot and humid months upon us, Cristy Burne share some tips on staying cool.
534: Swept away
Put away your broomsticks—all you really need to soar through the clouds is an armful of nylon and a good gust. Cristy Burne checks out the air up there.
532: Tee time
Can’t keep it on the fairway? The ‘yips’ invaded your game? Rob Smaal finds a few experienced golf pros who can work out your kinks on the links.
530: Balancing act
An ancient science is helping modern men and women find peace, health and the always elusive “balance.” Tama M. Lung takes a closer look at ayurveda.
528: Kicking on
Former K-1 Japan champion Nicholas Pettas shares his love of martial arts at the new Spirit Gym in Nogizaka. Chris Betros goes along to watch.
526: On call
A revolutionary daily disease self-management system is making life easier for diabetics. Chris Betros finds out about Lifewatcher.
524: Team spirit
From rugby to roller hockey, Tokyo is teeming with sports clubs for the expat athlete. Rob Smaal shows you how to get in the game.
522: Type casting
Second-generation blood-type expert Toshitaka Nomi looks at the links between blood classifications and health. Mick Corliss reports.
520: Like a rock
Climbing instructor Luke Kearns gets a grip on Tokyo's best indoor climbing gyms.
516: The personal touch
Madonna and Matsui aren't the only ones who need help staying fit. Hanna Kite pumps it up with the top personal trainers in Tokyo.
514: From here to maternity
Kavitha Rao turns to a handful of Tokyo experts to track down baby basics for nervous expat mothers-to-be.
502: Tour de Morton, part deux
Don Morton gets back on two wheels for a leisurely ride out toward Haneda Airport.


On call

A revolutionary daily disease self-management system is making life easier for diabetics. Chris Betros finds out about Lifewatcher.

For many diabetics, life is an endless round of filling in daily journals and waiting in doctors' offices to have their condition monitored. Fortunately, things are getting better thanks to the handy cellular phone. Lifewatcher, a revolutionary service from Mobile Healthcare Inc., provides a daily self-management system for diabetics and people with weight problems via cell phones. It offers real-time access to your personal medical records, daily medication, nutritional intake and other key health indicators.

Once you become a registered subscriber, you can monitor data on your blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels, carbohydrate and calorie intake, as well as insulin and medicine dosages. All measurements are available for viewing by your doctor, nutritionist or caregiver via a mobile device or PC log-in access. In addition, Lifewatcher has collated searches to all of the major fast-food groups and many restaurant menus into one personalized mobile dietary database, so that if you want to go out for dinner and you want to be careful and still enjoy what you eat, you simply do a search on your cell phone.

It couldn't be more timely. Diabetes is one of the fastest-growing diseases in Japan, where there are now 8.2 million confirmed diabetics and an estimated 8 million more who do not know that they have the disease. This means that one in four people are diabetic or will develop the disease within their lifetime. According to the Ministry of Health and Welfare, the figure is growing at an alarming rate of 20 percent a year.


Accounting system
The brainchild of Canadian entrepreneur James Nakagawa and two partners, Lifewatcher ( is a prescriptive care service under the supervision of doctors and healthcare practitioners. Nakagawa has been in Japan for about 14 years. Initially, he worked for a couple of years in the artificial intelligence division of CSK, the parent company of Sega. He left CSK and formed his own online financial services consulting company, TWI Ltd., where he spent ten years. The genesis for Mobile Healthcare came in 1998 when he established, Japan's first cancer support website which he created in honor of his father who succumbed to the disease in 1998.

Lifewatcher founder James Nakagawa

"Then in April 2000, a Japanese executive friend who used to take me drinking in Ginza told me that he had been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. He had severe complications that had not been caught early," he says. "I didn't know much about diabetes and so I did a lot of research in Canada and the US. I found out how difficult it was for patients to monitor it, to keep a count of their calorie intake and that there was no system available on cell phones. Even the dietary sites on the Internet were terrible, not well thought out, at all."

There still remain a lot of myths about diabetes, Nakagawa points out. "One of them is that fast food equals junk food and junk food equals bad for your health. But fast food is not necessarily bad for your health. It's the amount of what you eat that is important if you have a chronic disease. People think that if they have diabetes, they can't go out and eat this or that. That's not so."


Support group
Getting Mobile Healthcare up and running was no easy task. Lifewatcher was in development for about 18 months with Japanese researchers. "We only had things on paper," recalls Nakagawa. "I sent a proposal to the president of Apple Computer and within two days they called me back and I was meeting their business development director. They liked the idea and provided all the hardware and software support. We started in May 2003."

Next, they had to convince doctors and clinics. "At first, many doctors looked at Lifewatcher and thought it was an interesting tool, but they wondered if people could manage their diabetes on a cell phone where they would have to input information," said Nakagawa. "I said to them: 'Well, aren't they doing that anyway with daily journals and so on?' Now doctors are prescribing the service and patients can claim 70 percent of the costs back on health insurance. Nutritionists are also recommending it to their patients. The Ministry of Health and Welfare gave us the OK, since we are not a medical company and we don't get in between the doctor and patient. We are the only company that has received permission from the ministry to use their nutritional database. The Japanese Red Cross was one of our earlier supporters. Companies like McDonald's, Mos Burger, Denny's and many restaurants have been good about providing nutritional data on their menus."

Then there was the question of convincing diabetics that they really could manage their disease on a cell phone. Currently, there are only a few hundred subscribers, "but we're getting good feedback from them, too," says Nakagawa. "Doctors say that patients with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes often never mention complications. Other times, they neglect to take their medication or count their calorie intake. Lifewatcher helps them not only by monitoring their condition, but by helping their communication with doctors. They just need to show the doctor their records. Also, to help minimize mistakes, there is a system that lets you know if the inputted data is wrong. For example, a red light flashes if a diabetic hasn't taken his or her insulin." Another plus is that there are no legal pitfalls. "We are only providing the tools for people to monitor their health," says Nakagawa. "So what if the database gets hacked, what are they going to discover? That I had three Big Macs on Tuesday and Wednesday?"


Branching out
The potential for Lifewatcher in Japan is enormous: there are over 80 million cell phone users with mobile Internet access (Lifewatcher is currently available on i-mode, Vodafone and KDDI, as well as through PDAs). The only drawback for the foreign community, at least, is that it is available only in Japanese, but Nakagawa says an English version is definitely on the horizon. The company hopes to introduce Lifewatcher to the North American and European markets and discussions are currently under way with a major overseas telecom company.

"Since last autumn, they have been evaluating us and say that we have the best comprehensive and integrated disease management mobile system they have seen," says Nakagawa, preferring not to name the company.

A jazz fan and self-confessed Trekkie, Nakagawa works with his marketing manager out of an office in Itabashi Ward and keeps in touch with his partners online. The business is very much remote. But with 23 e-mail addresses, three cell phones, a fax and two phone lines, he is not hard to reach. He is also an avid reader of medical journals. "I would say that I have read more than most doctors, at least within the field of diabetes," he notes. "In the last two years, I must have read over 150,000 pages."

For further information on Lifewatcher, contact James Nakagawa at

Photo credit: Chris Betros, Courtesy of Lifewatcher

Discuss this article with metropolis readers at