Health Tips in Japan



Japan guarantees health care to its citizens under the NHI (National Insurance Scheme, known locally as kokmin kenko hoken). Foreigners may join the NHI or their employers may automatically enroll them for it. The scheme is funded by contributions from employees, employers and government contributions and covers most medical expenses except cosmetic procedures including orthodontic treatment.

Foreigners opting for the NHI first and later choosing private health insurance to supplement the coverage are appreciated by Japanese officials. It is best to decide whether you want to join the NHI or take private insurance before moving to the country.

NHI premiums are organized as regular taxes paid to local municipal offices and are calculated based on the previous year's income. Students and dependents are heavily discounted under the scheme. If you subscribe to the NHI, you need to simply go to a public medical facility and fill out a reimbursement form.

The advantages of choosing private insurance are many: immunization of children as per the schedule in your home country, personalized treatment, centralization of medical records and better access to English speaking doctors. The insurance company will provide you with a list of physicians and hospitals where you can find treatment.


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Japan has a network of well-staffed hospitals. University medical clinics and large hospitals are often very crowded. For minor ailments, you may visit public health clinics that provide free treatment to Japanese citizens and foreigners. Public health clinics offer good treatment and facilities; however, their staff may not speak English.

Both public and private hospitals and clinics treat patients on a first-come-first-serve basis. Non-emergency hospital rooms open around 7 am. Appointment times are issued by a machine; you have to simply type in the appropriate department.

In Japan, doctors see patients in a curtained examination area. Nurses lead patients in and out and other patients wait on benches nearby; though they cannot see what happens in the examination area they can hear most of the conversation during the examination.


Japanese doctors are well trained and efficient. Most of them understand and/or speak English, though their written English is often better than their spoken English. Many of the older doctors can even speak German. Until the mid-twentieth century, Japanese medical charts were written in German and the medical education system in the country is still based on the German system.


A pharmacy is called "yakkyoku" in Japan. There are several pharmacies across the country but not all handle prescriptions. Asking "Shoshen?" (Prescriptions) will help determine whether or not a prescription can be filled at a pharmacy. Foreign prescriptions cannot be filled in Japan. If you think your medication brand from home cannot be found in Japan, carry a supply of medication with you or talk to your pharmacist to get a Japanese substitute. Guidelines for importing medication can be found with the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare.

Traditional herbal remedies (kampo) are popular in Japan and are often used to supplement modern treatment methods. Do not take any such treatment without consulting your doctor first.

Emergency Numbers

Ambulance: 119

Japan Helpline: 0120 461 997 (24 Hour English language emergency services, including phone support for health related queries and minor injuries)

In Case of an Emergency

In case of an emergency, dial 119 for an ambulance. Most operators understand English if spoken carefully.

Ambulance service in the country is free. However, one major problem is that of the excessive pressure on emergency facilities on account of population density. Due to this, emergency sections in most hospitals are crowded and this could be the scenario at your nearest hospital. In this case ambulance drivers simply drive to the next hospital until they find an emergency room with place. This is often detrimental to a patient who is already in need of emergency care.

Health Risks

Before moving to Japan ensure that you get vaccinations for Hepatitis A and B, Typhoid, Japanese Encephalitis, Measles, Mumps, Diphtheria, Rubella, Pertussis (whooping cough), Tetanus and Polio. The most common serious diseases are spread through insect bites, for which use of mosquito nets and insect repellents is advised. The climate is very humid and it could take some getting used to. If you are unused to the weather, it is best to ensure you are hydrated and avoid long hours in the sun.


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