Many unexpected situations can arise from being in a foreign environment. You might catch a cold if you haven’t adapted to the country’s climate, get sick because you are not used to the food, or end up injured from a single moment of carelessness. It’s easy to panic when you encounter an emergency in a country where the language and culture are different, so, to alleviate your fears, we’ve put together a guide about what to do if you get sick or injured in Japan.
1. What If I Get Sick? How to Visit a Doctor in Japan
You will find medical facilities that are open to foreigners all over Japan. If the worst-case scenario occurs and you need to see a doctor, look for somewhere nearby on the following online list of medical facilities that accept foreigners, compiled by the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO). This incredibly handy tool allows you to search by area, symptom, language, and whether the facility accepts credit cards. Available languages, types of treatment, and payment methods may differ, but you can find relevant information on medical institutions before seeking treatment without needing to know Japanese.
Chinese (Traditional): https://www.jnto.go.jp/emergency/chc/mi_guide.html
Chinese (Simplified): https://www.jnto.go.jp/emergency/chs/mi_guide.html
2. What Are Japanese Medical Facilities Like? Will You Be Seen Without an Appointment? How Do You Call an Ambulance?
In Japan, as in most countries, there are many different kinds of medical facilities, from university and municipal hospitals to small clinics, etc. Larger facilities will have an extensive range of departments from surgery and internal medicine to pediatrics, orthopedics, and psychiatry, and they should have no problem accommodating you. However, you should be aware that if you are visiting medical facilities without an appointment, you will probably have to wait a long time to be seen. In case of an emergency, you could visit a hospital with an emergency department or call 119 for an ambulance. Also, it is worth knowing that there may be additional costs involved in a trip to the emergency room such as holiday fees or late-night fees.
How to Call an Ambulance
When you call 119, the operator will first answer in Japanese, but if you speak in English to them, you should be connected with an English-speaking operator. However, if you can get a Japanese person to help you, things will go a lot more smoothly, so try and find someone nearby to make the call for you.
① Dial 119.
② You will hear the question “Kaji desu ka? Kyukyu desu ka?” (Is it a fire or a medical emergency?). Answer “Kyukyu desu” (medical emergency). 119 is also the number for the fire department.
③ Do your best to accurately describe nearby landmarks to determine your address or location.
④ Give details of the accident, injury, or condition.
⑤ Give the name and phone number of the person calling.
⑥ When you hear the ambulance siren, try to guide them as best as you can. (Follow the instructions given by the paramedics)
⑦ When the ambulance crew arrives, tell them about any first aid that has been administered, the patient’s condition, and anything you can about their medical history.
The Fire and Disaster Management Agency of the Ministry of Internal Affairs & Communications has produced the “Guide for Ambulance Services,” which teaches foreign tourists how to use an ambulance in Japan, available in English, traditional Chinese, simplified Chinese, Korean, Thai, French, and Italian. Please check it out.
3. Are You Worried About Seeing a Doctor in Japan? Take Notes So You Can Accurately Describe Your Symptoms
You’ve probably had times when you couldn’t quite find the words to explain how you’re feeling. If you know what is wrong, try to take some notes with you so that you can accurately describe your problems to the doctor. Important things to write down to help the examination go smoothly are your name, blood type, current symptoms, current medications, any serious past illnesses, chronic allergies, your religion, and an emergency contact.
4. How Do I Get My Medication After Seeing the Doctor? Will I Get It When I Pay My Bill?
If you are at a large hospital, you will be able to get your prescription there. If you go to a smaller clinic, you will have to take your prescription to a pharmacy. In many instances there will be a pharmacy within the grounds of the hospital/clinic or somewhere close by. In recent years, pharmacies have started to open in drugstores, many of which now also offer multilingual support, so it should be easy to get an explanation about your prescribed medication.
5. Do All Medical Institutions in Japan Accept National/Employees’ Health Insurance?
What worries people about using medical facilities abroad is the cost. If you can’t use your insurance and have to shoulder the whole cost yourself, it can become a huge expense. In Japan, this is less of a worry as enrolling in some form of public health insurance is actually mandatory for anyone over the age of 20. This includes foreigners who plan to live in Japan for at least one year. The two most common kinds of public health insurance are National Health Insurance (NHI) and Employees’ Health Insurance (shakai hoken).
There are, however, some caveats. For starters, both NHI and shakai hoken cover only 70% of the total costs. Furthermore, not all medical institutions or services are covered by this insurance. You will typically have to shell out 100% of the costs for cosmetic surgery, health examinations, orthodontics, voluntary vaccinations, and so on. There are also some clinics that, for their own reasons, do not accept any form of public health insurance.
One way you can avoid paying full price is by purchasing private health insurance. There are many insurance companies that offer support in English, and you can easily find them with one Google search. Another way is by simply picking a clinic that does accept public health insurance. To check, simply call them and ask, “Kokumin hoken / Shakai hoken wa daijobu desu ka?” (Do you accept NHI / Employees’ Health Insurance?) “Hai” means yes, “iie” means no.
6. I Don’t Feel Well, But It’s Not Bad Enough to Go to the Hospital… Where to Buy Over-the-Counter Medication in Japan?
If your condition is not serious enough to go to the doctor but you still need medication, you should head to the drugstore. There are many duty-free drugstores aimed at foreign travelers, and more importantly, Japanese medication has a reputation for being highly effective. Below are some examples of well-known drugstore chains in Japan.
・Matsumoto Kiyoshi: https://www.matsukiyo.co.jp/store/online
・Tsuruha Drug: https://www.tsuruha.co.jp/
・Sun Drug: http://www.sundrug.co.jp/
・Cocokara Fine: https://corp.cocokarafine.co.jp/english/index.html
7. Can I Bring My Own Medication to Japan in Case I Get Sick?
Basically, there are no restrictions on bringing medication for personal use to Japan with you, even if it has not been approved for use in the country.
8. I Don’t Speak Japanese. How Do I Communicate My Symptoms to My Doctor?
JNTO has released the “Guidebook for When You Are Feeling Ill.” Print it out and bring it with you or download it and keep it on your smartphone. It contains multilingual pages that allow you to interact in a range of situations, including pages where you can point to your symptoms and write down your personal medical information. It is worth looking over so you are prepared for all eventualities.
Traditional Chinese: https://www.jnto.go.jp/emergency/common/pdf/guide_chi01.pdf
Simplified Chinese: https://www.jnto.go.jp/emergency/common/pdf/guide_chi02.pdf
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.