Philanthropist Tosh Ogasawara Meets Challenges with Optimism and Courage
Toshiaki “Tosh” Ogasawara has never shied away from a challenge. It’s a quality that brought him considerable success in the business world and ultimately saved his life. A survivor of throat cancer - one of the most life-altering forms of the disease - the Japanese native earned a master s degree at Princeton University, established Nifco, Inc., managed the high-profile Japan Times , and fought off prostate cancer.
Most recently, Tosh gave a generous gift to Hoag - earmarked for an important research challenge: to help identify optimal treatment guidelines for head and neck cancer patients, guidelines that he hopes will spare them from the side-effects of treatment that he experienced.
“Hoag and their medical team saved my life,” he says, “and for that I’m very grateful. Throat cancer treatment can be very difficult, and my hope is that this gift can ultimately shorten treatment and help prevent others from experiencing some of the effects that radiation can cause.”
His story began in Tokyo where Tosh was born and reared and where he earned an undergraduate degree at University in Tokyo. He then enrolled in Princeton’s storied Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, which he hoped would serve as a springboard for a career in politics.
While at Princeton he met a successful businessman who asked him to collaborate on a joint venture that would become Tokyo-based Nifco, a major manufacturer of industrial plastic parts and components. The company, which serves all the Japanese and foreign automakers, was established in 1967. NIFCO currently has manufacturing plants in 17 countries and more than 6,000 employees. Tosh still serves as the Board Chairman.
In 1983 he acquired the Japan Times, serving as chairman and publisher and guiding the prestigious English language newspaper through a period of uncertainty. He ran the newspaper for two decades which his daughter, Yukiko, “Yuki,” now publishes.
Throat Cancer Strikes
Things went well for many years as he divided his time between Japan and California, where he came to serve as a life trustee at USC and a board member at Bank of America and Security Pacific Bank. Then, in 2004, things changed dramatically when Tosh felt a lump inside his throat and began experiencing pain, bleeding and dryness of the mouth. The diagnosis in Tokyo was advanced throat cancer. When he was told his prognosis was not good, Yuki began searching for options in America. She remembered Jay Tassin, M.D., who treated Tosh at Cedars Sinai for prostate cancer, but who was now at Hoag.
Under the guidance of Dr. Tassin, who retired in 2005, and Brian Kim, M.D., Hoag radiation oncologist, Tosh underwent intensity-modulated radiation therapy, an advanced mode of high-precision radiotherapy that uses a computer-controlled linear accelerator to deliver precise doses of radiation to malignant tissue. He received 35 treatments over seven weeks - the last three of which were the most difficult. He also underwent chemotherapy.
At one point in 2005, Tosh decided to stop treatment because the radiation treatments were so harsh on his body. However, Yuki would not allow her father to give up. She hired an ambulance and forced him to show up for the last three very important treatments. “I was able to survive my cancer, which doctors told me is a miraculous thing,” he shares . “Many people die from this disease, so the 35 treatments I underwent were a small price to pay for my life.”
Tosh is so grateful and so determined to help spare others from the challenges that he experienced, he decided to fund Hoag’s head and neck cancer research project, which is the first of its kind anywhere. “His gift is very important to us,” explains Dr. Kim. “It allows us to invest in some new technology for radiation treatment planning and gives us the ability to conduct larger trials down the line. We view this as a first step in perhaps attracting other physicians to come here, practice, and join in our research. It provides a great foundation for the future.”
The feeling of admiration is very mutual. “Dr. Kim is wonderful, a very intelligent and kind doctor,” adds Tosh. “He listened and he answered all of my questions - he encouraged me greatly.”
Tosh is no stranger to giving. Years ago he established the Ogasawara Foundation for the Promotion of Science and Engineering and is involved with many corporations and organizations, including the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association and the Japan-America Society of Tokyo. With an earlier gift, he helped establish an international garden at USC. These days, Tosh is back to shuttling between Tokyo and the U.S., scheduling his visits to California to enable various medical appointments and procedures at his preferred hospital - Hoag. A recent PET/CT scan showed no trace of recurrence, he now only sees Dr. Kim to say “hello.”
*In Memory of Toshiaki "Tosh" Ogasawara