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"Koko ga hendayo" (This is really strange--about Japanese hospitals and the medical system)

By fukuikuroneko - Posted on 22 June 2012

I am collecting people's thoughts about what they find strange about hospitals/clinics here in Japan. I need to make a report at a conference and I would like your input. If you want to share privately with me, that is fine. My email address is:

Whatever you share with me (via email) will be treated as confidential information.

I am also finalizing my research about accessing the Japanese medical system and would like to still interview people willing to share their stories (positive and not so positive), especially when trying to understand and be understood by personnel (staff, nurses, doctors, etc) in the medical setting here in Japan. Again, the information shared will be treated as confidential and I will make sure that what is reported will not include any personal information which can be traced to any person. If interested in participating in this, please contact me at the address above.

I appreciate everyone's input. Your thoughts will help to better form a stronger base for accessing trained health care interpreters here in Japan.

Looking forward to hearing from many of you via this forum.

Raine (Lorraine)


As an American, I've been impressed by the fact that normal people can visit doctors when they aren't actively dying, and specialists are just a matter of making an appointment (or even walking right in). There's apparently a stereotype here that Americans just take aspirin for everything and never actually see doctors, which is kind of funny and true and sad, I guess.

Far from the much-relayed horror stories about Japan that everyone's heard, it turns out that "they won't inform you about the medicines you've been given" is as untrue as "the toothpaste doesn't have fluoride in it" and just as popular a "fact." It's nearly impossible to get a prescription filled without a detailed write-up on each medication you've been provided and its effects. The rub is that you have to speak the language it's written in, though really helps once you know the name if you're interested in learning its effects in English from a really cheap-looking web site.

Overall I've been really pleased with the treatment I've gotten everywhere (with one exception, where I was prescribed Chinese medicine that did nothing to help the severe sinus infection I had — I then went to a very modern nose doctor down the street from where I live, and got that cleared right up), and can't begin to express how much better everything about healthcare here is than in my home country.

Hi GLescoe,
I really appreciate your thoughts too. As a fellow American, I agree about the mistaken ideas about the Japanese medical system. Once we get used to the long waits, we usually do get the treatment we do not have to be dying before we do. The fact that they will even treat us with or without insurance is an eye-popper too!!! Many of my friends are rejected outright (in the US) if they do not have insurance.

I think what most people mean about not getting information regarding our medications is somewhat true in that the doctors don't tell us much. They leave that up to the pharmacist. And for the most part, the pharmacists provide pictures of the pills (especially if you have more than one that looks the same) and they do their best to number them or label them in a way that is easy for the patient. The information is unfortunately in Japanese (the detailed about the medicine), but then again, sites like what you provide can help. I hope you mentioned the webpage to the public forum. (I just checked it out and it looks good)

a Fukui long-timer,

Overall my experience with medical care in Japan was positive

I was a JET in Fukui ken for 4 years.

At one point my bf was visiting from the US and needed help because his eye was tearing like crazy and he couldn't see. We went to the hospital in Harue Town at about 2-3am and I was shocked that although the hospital was open, it seemed no one was there. We ran into a janitor that took as back to a small counter (which I previously passed as it seemed closed-- with curtain down). Turns out one staff memeber was behing the curtain in PJs and NAPPING! That was a bit of a shock. I then found out the only staff at the hospital that time of night was one ER doctor and a nurse but they could not do anything for my bf. They told us we need to return the following day when the full staff would be in. The ER doctor was an orthopedic so could deal with broken bones but not eye issues. We returned the following day and got assistance.
As my bf was visiting he did not have health care in Japan (nor did he have health care in the US actually). We were pleasantly suprised when he was seen by a doctor and given treatment and meds and all for a low cost of about 1man yen. That was most shocking. In the US he would not be seen by a doctor unless he filed for some sort of charity care and was approved first.

Another positive of the Japanese medical system is the ability to see specialists and get tests without much fuss. When I was in high school I injured my knee playing soccer. Although I went to a few doctors and had xrays taken that was the extent. I still felt pain but as no one noticed a brake they said it must just be very sore and that with time will heal.
Oddly enough when I was in Japan I started playing soccer again for the Fukui team and once again I began having issues with my knee. I finally went to the hospital and at first it was a repeat of years ago. The doctor asked me to tell him what happened, where the pain was, and took xrays. Again he said he sees nothing wrong. I knew I wasn't losing my mind and that the pain was real. Luckly for me the doctor asked if I'd like to see a specialist. I met with a specialist the same day. He didn't even ask for a history of my knee or what happened, he just asked which knee-- and examined it. Without looking at an xray or any tests he asked "when I had dislocated my knee." I was shocked. I never had. He told me that my knee cap is not sitting in the proper place and I must have dislocated it. He ordered an MRI and after results came back it turned out that my knee had been dislocated at least 3 times and had a minor rips in the muscles. I finally found out what happened to my knee so long ago and a brace to prevent it in the future.

I've been very lucky with my experiences with hospitals and doctors in Fukui. The only down side is the lack of privacy and doctor-patient confidenciality. Each time I was at the hospital news spread and I would go to school the following day, were many of my students and co-workers already knew about my hospital visit.

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