Prudential of Japan’s Akira Watanabe relied on his instincts, and his training, to help when it was needed most.

By John Chartier

July 14, 2022
Prudential of Japan’s Akira Watanabe receives a commendation letter from Tokyo Fire Department for saving a man’s life. (photo)

Prudential of Japan’s Akira Watanabe receives a commendation letter from Tokyo Fire Department for saving a man’s life.

Akira Watanabe was walking to dinner after work on a beautiful late-February night.

Approaching a railroad crossing, a second man, in his 50s or 60s, walking alone ahead of him, collapsed on the tracks.

Watanabe sprang into action. The former Life Planner and current branch office inspector with Prudential of Japan in Tokyo sprinted to the man, who was unconscious and not breathing. With the help of two others nearby, Watanabe carried him away from the tracks.

Next, one of the men ran to a nearby dental office and grabbed an AED, an automated external defibrillator. Having recently participated in lifesaving training provided as part of a volunteer day initiative in his branch Prudential office, as well as a basic lifesaving course at a driving school more than a decade ago, Watanabe grabbed the device and applied it to the unconscious man. It worked … temporarily. He applied chest compressions and the defibrillator several times in a span of 10 minutes, which felt much longer, until an ambulance finally arrived and rescue workers were able to continue working to revive the man.

The ambulance whisked the patient away, leaving the three good Samaritans wondering about his fate. Within a few hours, the Tokyo Fire Department called Watanabe to report the man had survived, thanks to his quick actions.

“When someone’s life is in danger in front of you, you have two choices: help, or walk away,” says Watanabe. “If I had walked away, I’d always wonder what happened to him. That would not be good for my spirit. I don’t believe it takes special courage or determination to help.”

For his actions, which came as second nature to him, Watanabe received a letter of appreciation from the Tokyo Fire Department.

A former journalist, he participated in a joint training session and in-house discussions during his first year about responding to natural disasters. The sessions were spurred after several journalists and media personnel were killed in the 1991 eruption of Mount Unzen’s Fugen-dake and the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake — which triggered devastating tsunamis and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. To prevent a repeat, news organizations began holding discussions on how to respond to such disasters. Watanabe, who naturally learned to prioritize lifesaving over reporting through these sessions, covered the 2016 Kumamoto earthquake.

While he may have experience in crisis scenarios, he plays down his response.

“I believe it is better to act and fail than to not act and regret it on a daily basis,” says Watanabe. “I just did the obvious thing, and I would like to continue to talk about my experience so that it might help save others’ lives.”

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