Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on January 2004

512-F-1

Living in Tokyo can be stressful enough anytime, but for many people, winter is the worst. The cold-weather months see a rise in the incidence of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), a depressive illness caused by light deprivation. And without the extended network of family and friends back in their home countries, stress can boil over, leading to depression, alcoholism, and eating and sleep disorders, to name a few. If this is how you’re feeling, don’t give up hope: There are plenty of support groups meeting regularly in Tokyo.

While depression, loneliness and alcoholism are the most common problems foreigners face in Japan, support groups have sprung up in Tokyo to deal with a whole range of issues, including compulsive-obsessive conditions such as sex addiction, drug abuse, sexual and spousal abuse, AIDS, dealing with cancer, grief and loss, international marriage problems, suicide, readjustment problems for returnees, labor problems, shopping addiction, and many more.

There are numerous telephone and online help centers that can be accessed from the privacy of your own home. However, you should exercise caution in making use of these and other free counseling services because the quality may not be what you expect. At Tokyo English Life Line (TELL), for example, counselors are medically unqualified volunteers who undergo a few months of training. For that reason, don’t expect them to perform miracles. On the other hand, professional counseling can be very expensive. A one-hour session can cost ´10,000-´15,000. Check with your health insurance company about if and how many sessions are allowed in your policy.

If you prefer a more natural approach to solving your problems, many forms of alternative therapy are available: yoga, Reiki, holistic counseling, hypnosis and Zen. Tokyo’s many churches all offer counseling for anyone seeking religious guidance.

Here are a few beacons in the darkness to help you beat the winter blues.

Telephone counseling

Tokyo English Life Line (TELL)

Tokyo English Life Line (TELL) is at the forefront of caring for the foreign community. Now in its 31st year, TELL is a nonprofit organization supported by the Tokyo Ecumenical Council as well as Red Feather/Community Chest, the Tokyo Metropolitan Council of Social Welfare, volunteer organizations, corporations, foundations and individual donors. In 2002, TELL took 5,218 calls; mental depression and loneliness topped the list of problems at 23 percent, followed by relationships at 13 percent and suicidal thoughts, 2 percent. Reflecting the growing diversity in the foreign community, TELL’s Yokohama branch now offers counseling in Spanish and Portuguese.

Most callers to TELL do not seek or require face-to-face counseling, but when they do, they’re referred to TELL Community Counseling Service (TCCS), a fully accredited Samaritan Center that offers counseling in English and Japanese. TELL psychotherapists work with children, teenagers and adults, as well as with couples and groups on a sliding-scale fee system. Of the referrals in 2002, most (40 percent) were North Americans, followed by Japanese (34 percent), Asians, Europeans, Australians and others.

TELL also has a calendar for 2004 that’s packed with useful information on foreign and Japanese organizations, international school schedules, events for the international community, and a verified, up-to-date list of Tokyo’s most widely used phone numbers. The cost is ´1,500 (plus ´300 for shipping). You can order it online at www.telljp.com/calendar.html

TELL’s general counseling telephone number is 03-5774-0992. The line is open daily from 9am-11pm. For more info, visit www.telljp.com. For an appointment with TELL Community Counseling Service (TCCS), call 03-3498-0231 or 03-3498-0232 (Japanese).

Japan Helpline

This is a 24-hour, nonprofit nationwide emergency assistance service, providing help and information on any topic from toothaches to earthquakes. Call 0120-46-1997 or 0990-53-8127.

Japan HIV Center

This AIDS telephone counseling service is open Mon-Fri 2-6pm and Saturdays 1-6pm. English is available at 0120-08-5812, Japanese 03-5259-0256. The Yokohama AIDS Telephone Service operates 24 hours a day at 045-671-4037.

Legal help for foreigners

Legal Counseling Center

Free (for those who qualify) legal counseling on visas, marriage issues and labor law. Reservations must be made in Japanese but counseling is offered in English. Tel: 03-3581-2302. Reservations: 03-3581-1511. Bar Association Bldg, 1-1-3 Kasumigaseki, Chiyoda-ku. Open Mon-Fri 11am-3pm. www.nichibenren.or.jp/en/legal/councel.html

Human Rights Counseling Center for Foreigners

From the Tokyo Regional Legal Affairs Bureau, counseling takes place in Chiyoda-ku and is also available in Chinese and German. Tel: 03-3214-6231.

Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department Foreigners’ Hotline

This general affairs police line provides counseling for victims of violence, forced labor and other personal matters. Tel: 03-3503-8484 (English), 03-3501-0110 (other languages).

Substance abuse and other addiction issues

Alcoholics Anonymous

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) has a large presence in Japan. Although the organization doesn’t disclose any statistics on the number of participants, AA conducts regular meetings throughout the country in all major cities and at US military bases. Call the AA Hotline at 03-3971-1471 or visit www.aatokyo.org. Online support links for alcoholics can be found at www.12StepWorld.com, www.SoberVoices.com and www.aa-intergroup.org

Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA)

Sometimes the ones who suffer the most from alcoholism are relatives. ACA is a 12-step, 12-tradition program for women and men who grew up in alcoholic or otherwise dysfunctional homes. ACA meetings in Tokyo are in English, but there are many Japanese ACA meetings. Contact ACA at 03-3434-5119 or email contact@acatokyo.org. For further info, visit www.acatokyo.org

Overeaters Anonymous

OA offers help for all those with eating-related problems, including bulimia and anorexia, with no fees, dues or weigh-ins. Tel: 03-5605-9425, email: oatokyo@yahoo.com

Sexaholics Anonymous

From unhealthy compulsions to abusive relationships, Sexaholics Anonymous can help overcome harmful sexual behavior. No dues or fees. For more info, email saintokyo@yahoo.com or visit www.geocities.com/saintokyo

Drug Overdose & Poison Control Centers

Besides overdose information, staff at this number can provide all manner of emergency information in English. Tel: 03-3212-2323.

Women and families

HELP Asian Women’s Shelter Counseling

HELP (Housing in Emergency of Love and Peace) Asian Women’s Shelter in Tokyo provides emergency housing relief and support to women in trouble. Just under half of the participants are from Japan, with the remainder mostly from other Asian countries-mainly Thailand, the Philippines and Taiwan-with some from other nations such as Colombia and Iran, and a handful of Western women from the US, Canada and the UK. HELP Asian Women’s Shelter in Tokyo was established in April 1986 by the Japan Women’s Christian Temperance Union, the first nationwide women’s organization in Japan. The HELP line is open 10am-6pm, and staff can provide counseling in English, Tagalog, Thai and Japanese. Tel: 03-3368-8855.

Tokyo Pregnancy Group

Having a baby in a foreign country can be a daunting prospect. The Tokyo Pregnancy Group is an informal association that offers support and information for pregnant women. Membership is free. For more info, visit www.geocities.com/tokyopregnancygroup

Professional counseling

Ohnogi Psychotherapy and Counseling Clinic

Akiko J. Ohnogi has an MA in clinical psychology and a PsyD. from the California School of Professional Psychology, San Diego campus. 3-3-27 Azabudai Flats 302, Azabudai, Minato-ku. (10min from Roppongi stn or Roppongi 1-chome stn). Call 03-3560-6641 or fax 03-3560-6642.

Dr Allen L. Robinson PhD (psychologist/psychotherapist)

Star Plaza Aoyama 1001, 1-10-3 Shibuya, Shibuya-ku. Call 03-3407-5696 or email alrobin@gol.com

Meguro Counseling Center

Douglas Berger, MD, PhD, US Board-certified psychiatrist. Tel: 03-3716-6624, email berger@japanpsychiatrist.com or visit www.megurocounseling.com

Yoga

Tokyo Yoga Circle

Practice yoga with certified senior bilingual Indian instructor with 15 years’ teaching experience. Multilevel and prenatal classes throughout the week and beginner-level classes on weekends and some weekday evenings. Tel: 03-3582-3505, email yoga@rajay-org or visit www.rajay.org.

Sun and Moon Yoga

A certified, experienced teacher/writer from California (speaks Japanese) provides instruction in beginning, vinyasa and power yoga, and restorative varieties. All levels welcome. Located near JR Meguro stn. Tel: 03-3280-6383. visit www.lezalowitz.com

Ashtanga Yoga Japan/International Yoga Center

Offers classes, retreats, health events and workshops with international teachers. Beginners welcome. Call Basia at 090-1775-2390 or visit www.museumtokyo.com

Spiritual healing

Inner Light Service

Offers spiritual channeling for people who are interested in hypnosis and inner guidance. Tel: 03-3781-5977.

Reiki Share Group

Experience the natural healing power of universal life force energy in a comfortable group setting. Tel: 03-3357-2067 or 03-3358-1714.

Zen Retreat

For information about Zen retreats in the Tokyo area, contact Peter at 0298-71-1388.

Buddhist meditation

To experience Buddhist meditation in the 900-year-old kagyu tradition, call 046-628-8399.