A Guide to Finding a Hospital/Getting a Check-Up When You Don’t Speak Japanese


Living in an unfamiliar country like Japan can cause your body to react in all sorts of unpredictable ways. When that happens, the most important thing is to stay calm and consult a doctor. To help with this, in this article, we’ll discuss ways of finding medical facilities with multilingual support, explain how to get a check-up, and go through steps to take afterward.

Which Medical Facilities Offer Multilingual Support?! Two Websites You Should Know

No matter how careful we are, in the course of everyday life, we can all get hurt or sick. When such a thing happens in an unfamiliar area, it is important to stay calm and take the following steps.

First, decide which medical facility to visit. If you can speak Japanese, you can simply head to the nearest hospital or clinic, but if you’re not yet fully confident in your language skills, finding a facility with multilingual support is much better. We recommend the following two sites when seeking such a facility:

Medical Excellence JAPAN:
Languages: English, Simplified Chinese, Russian
Official Website: https://medicalexcellencejapan.org/jp/

Japan National Tourism Organization
Languages: English, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, Korean
Official Website: https://www.jnto.go.jp/

Additionally, iPhone users can search for a multilingual medical facility based on their location with an app called Japan Hospital Guide, which has a useful map feature to easily find a nearby facility.

How Much Does a Visit to a Japanese Hospital Cost? How Much Will I Have to Pay Out of Pocket?

Out-of-pocket medical costs differ from country to country. Some countries cover medical costs entirely while others might charge you based on your insurance or income. So what about Japan?

First, a short explanation of how insurance works in Japan. The country’s National Health Insurance System has been set up to guarantee care for people in need of medical assistance. Every Japanese citizen is obligated to pay into it, as is every foreigner staying in Japan for more than three months. Once you’re covered by the system, you’ll be charged for medical services in exactly the same way as Japanese people, with out-of-pocket expenses costing about 1/3 of the cost of treatment.

Japan’s National Insurance is divided into five categories:

  • Employee Health Insurance
  • National Health Insurance (Exchange Students)
  • Mutual Aid Association
  • Seamen’s Insurance
  • Advanced Elderly Medical Service System

The majority of foreigners living in Japan are covered by the Employee Health Insurance or the National Health Insurance.

Once you’re covered, there are a couple of ways to apply for a reduction of large medical bills incurred for things like hospital stays or surgery. These are described below.

Eligibility Certificate for Ceiling-Amount (Apply Beforehand)

If you know that you’ll require a hospital stay or surgery, you should apply beforehand for an Eligibility Certificate for Ceiling-Amount, which will cap your monthly expenses at a set amount (based on your monthly income). The remaining amount will be covered by the Japan Health Insurance Association.

High-Cost Medical Care Benefit System (Apply After the Fact)

Similarly to the Eligibility Certificate for Ceiling-Amount, this system caps your expenses and has the Japan Health Insurance Association cover the outstanding amount. However, you’ll first have to pay the entire amount yourself. The excess amount will be paid back to you afterward, but this process usually takes several months. People typically use this system in the event of sudden hospitalization or surgery.

Do I Need to Book an Appointment Before Going to the Hospital?

First, you should know that there are many kinds of medical facilities in Japan.

Small-Scale Medical Facilities:

  • Referred to as clinics, medical offices, or doctor offices.
  • Fewer than 19 beds.
  • Mainly focused on handling light injuries and illnesses or chronic conditions.
  • Many of these places specialize in fields such as internal medicine, obstetrics, or gynecology

Medium to Large-Scale Medical Institutions:

  • Referred to as hospitals.
  • 20 or more beds.
  • Various specializations.
  • Used for more specialized examinations and surgeries.

At small-scale institutions, a doctor will typically be able to see you without an appointment or long wait time. At larger facilities, however, it’s best to call ahead. Although not required, you may end up waiting a very long time if you don’t schedule an appointment, which will only make you feel worse than you already are. For this reason, it’s best to call ahead if you can.

When making an appointment, you’ll most likely be asked some of the following questions. If you don’t speak Japanese, at least memorize these few sentences.

Typical Questions and Answers:

Q: Namae (name), nenrei (age), seibetsu (sex), denwabango (phone number)? A: (Answer with your personal information).

Q: Don’na shojo desuka? (Please describe your symptoms.)
A: For example, you can say…

  • Onaka ga itai (My stomach hurts.)
  • Netsu ga aru (I have a fever.)

Q: Itsu goro kara hassho shiteimasuka? (How long have you had those symptoms?)
A: For example, you can say…

  • Mikka mae kara netsu ga arimasu (I’ve had a fever for three days now.)
  • Asa kara onaka ga itai desu (My stomach has been hurting since this morning.)

Q: Kokuminkaihoken no shurui wa nandesuka? (What kind of National Insurance do you have?)
A: For example, you can say…

  • Kokumin kenko hoken desu (National Health Insurance.)

Q: Shindan kibo nichiji wa itsu desuka? (When would you like to schedule your appointment?)
A: For example, you can say…

  • Ashita no gozenchu ni onegaishimasu (Tomorrow morning, please.)

In case of an emergency, you can call an ambulance by dialing 119. You’ll need to give them your address, so make sure you can say your address in Japanese by memory.

How Do I Fill Out a Medical Questionnaire?

When you get to a hospital/clinic and it’s not an emergency, you’ll have to go to the reception desk. If you have an appointment, tell the person behind the desk your name and appointment details. If this is your first time at this particular medical facility, you’ll have to fill out a registration form (writing down your name, birthdate, sex, phone number, address, type of insurance, and so on) in order to get your “patient card.”

You’ll also be given a medical questionnaire to fill out, detailing your health, condition, allergies, and so on. The doctor will reference this during the examination, so make sure you do it properly. Almost every clinic will have an English version of the medical questionnaire, but in the rare case that a clinic doesn’t, you can refer to the kanji below to navigate a Japanese-only version.

Example of Questions on a Medical Questionnaire

• Name (名前), Age (年齢), Sex (性別), Birthdate (生年月日), Phone Number (電話番号), Address (住所)

• What are your symptoms? (どんな症状か)
Most forms will include a list of symptoms so just put a checkmark next to the appropriate ones. See the next section for a list of Japanese symptoms.

• How long have you had these symptoms? (いつごろから発症しているのか?)

• Are you receiving any treatment now or do you have a history of illness? (現在、治療中または過去に病気にかかったことがあるか?)
Most forms will include a list of illnesses so just put a checkmark next to the appropriate ones.

• Have you ever had surgery? (手術したことがあるか?)
Check 「はい」 for Yes and 「いいえ」 for No. If you choose Yes, please write down the details.

• Are you taking any medication? (現在、服用している薬はあるか?)
Check 「あり」 for Yes and 「なし」 for No. If you choose Yes, please write down the name of your medication(s).

• Do you have any food or drug allergies? (薬や食べ物アレルギーはあるか?)
Check 「あり」 for Yes and 「なし」 for No. If you choose Yes, please write down the details.

• Are you a smoker? (たばこは吸うか?)
Check 「はい」 for Yes and 「いいえ」 for No. If you choose Yes, please write down how many cigarettes you smoke per day.

• Do you drink alcohol? (お酒を飲むか?)
Check 「はい」 for Yes and 「いいえ」 for No. If you choose Yes, please write down how much you drink a day.

• Are you pregnant? (現在、妊娠中か?)
Check 「はい」 for Yes and 「いいえ」 for No. If you choose Yes, please write down how far along you are.

• Are you breastfeeding? (現在、授乳中か?)
Check 「はい」 for Yes and 「いいえ」 for No.

This may seem like a lot of questions but it’s all needed to get you the best care possible so make sure you don’t make any mistakes while filling out the questionnaire.

How Do I Explain My Symptoms During an Examination?

Once you’re done with registration, you’ll have to wait your turn to be seen. When your name is called out, go into the examination room. If the facility has multilingual support, you have nothing to worry about, but if not, you’ll have to do your best to explain your symptoms in Japanese. To help you with that, we’ve prepared a list of the most common symptoms that you should memorize before the examination.

  • (body part) hurts: (body part) itai 痛い
  • Itchy: kayui かゆい
  • Cough: seki
  • Runny nose: hanamizu 鼻水
  • Stuffy nose: hanazumari 鼻づまり
  • Headache: zutsu 頭痛
  • Stomachache: fukutsu 腹痛
  • Sluggish/listless: darui だるい
  • Painful/tight: kurushii 苦しい
  • Fever: netsu
  • Dizziness/vertigo: memai めまい
  • Nausea: hakike 吐き気

How Do I Pay My Bill and Get Medication?


Once the examination is over, return to the waiting area until your name is called out and you’ll be given your medical report and prescription. After paying your bill there, leave the hospital/clinic. You can get your medication at almost any pharmacy. Just look for a sign with the kanji 薬局 (yakkyoku) written on it. Most pharmacies are located right next to hospitals and clinics, so just look around and you’ll quickly find one.

At the pharmacy, first, go up to the reception desk and give them your health insurance card and prescription. If this is your first time at that pharmacy, you’ll have to write down your personal information on a registration form, just like at the clinic or hospital. Once that is done, wait for your name to be called out. The pharmacist will then explain your medication, its effects, the dosage, and so on. Be sure to listen to it carefully and ask questions if you have any. If everything is alright, pay for your medication and go back home.

And that’s how you get medical care in Japan, from making an appointment to registration, examination, payment, and getting your medication. Some of the steps may differ depending on the facility but this guide should help make the process much easier for you. Be sure to consult it the next time you need to see a doctor!

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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.