Japanese Medical System

Japanese Health Care System


Most doctors see their patients on a walk-in basis. Expect some waiting, as it is usual practice here for people to go to the hospital, or clinic, for a common cold or cough (remember that you can’t use sick leave unless you go to the doctor…) If you are very unwell, let someone at the check-in counter know to speed up the process.


The doctor probably won’t tell you what is wrong, but will prescribe a “pharmacopoeia” of drugs. Use your judgment, and ask a lot of questions. Ask what the drugs are, whether the’re necessary, and how to take them. Also ask about side effects and whether you can drink alcohol while taking them. If you are in real pain, be pushy and ask for a prescription of pain relief medicine. Paid meds are reluctantly prescribed, so you’ll usually need to ask for them.

Rather than prescribing enough medication to last you until you’re well, the doctor will usually give you a few days worth, and expect to see you again when the medication runs out.

Privacy…or lack thereof

The doctor may examine you in front of other patients or talk about your medical problems with the nurses openly in front of other patients. It isn’t uncommon for a doctor or dentist to be treating several patients simultaneously; e.g. drilling one patient while the anesthetic is taking effect on another. If you live in a rural area, don’t be surprised if many people around town know about your doctor’s visit, and what your ailment is.


If you are hospitalized while in Japan, your experience will probably not be very different from staying in a hospital in your home country. However if you are staying at a smaller clinic, that has inpatient facilities, you may find the experience very different. The medical staff often oversees many more patients than we may be used to, and care-giving for other affairs than medical are considered the responsibility of family. Bathing or showering is usually infrequent during an illness. If you are in a hospital for a while, it is best to try to build a good relationship with the nurses and doctors. You will find that it makes a big difference on your overall experience.

Health Insurance

(see About our Health Insurance)

Our national health insurance policy provides extensive coverage for medical care costs. The insured person pays a fraction of the medical care cost. Please refer to the JET General Information Handbook for more detailed information. In some cases, our medical insurance requires that paperwork go through our offices at school or elsewhere for processing, so several people may see your bills and/or doctor’s comments. If you want to maintain absolute privacy then it may be best to seek out a western-educated doctor who isn’t on the national insurance plan, but this will mean much higher costs.


If you arrive at the hospital in an ambulance, you get priority over other patients. If you are seriously sick or injured, call an ambulance. If you rush to the hospital on your own, you may be made to wait. Ambulances are sent to a specific hospital by the 119 dispatcher. It is not usually possible to go to the hospital of your choice. Ambulance crews are usually only allowed (by law) to apply bandages, give oxygen, and give CPR. This is changing, however, and some ambulance crews now include fully trained paramedics who are authorized to administer injections and intubations.

If you are traveling to the emergency room yourself, keep in mind that not all emergency rooms are open 24/7 and they may turn some cases away. The best bet is to always call the hospital ahead of time and let them know when you will arrive and what the patient’s symptoms are (to avoid any language barriers, it is probably best to have your supervisor or a bilingual friend call for you when possible.) Make sure to take your national medical insurance card. Also, if you arrive outside of normal outpatient hours, you may need to provide a refundable deposit of \10,000.

See the Find a Doctor page if you are looking for a doctor.


Language barriers can leave you unsure of certain medicines or diagnoses. The internet can be an excellent resource for further information. However, please remember to be cautious. While the internet can provide a wealth of useful findings, the web contains fraudulent and false information as well. It is a good idea to discuss any information found on the internet with your doctor before taking any actions. The following websites may be of use in health related inquires:

Web MD

Medicine Plus
Health Information from the National Library of Medicine

Stedman’s Online Medical Dictionary

For medical vocabulary in Japanese, check your JET Diary or see Online Dictionaries in the Learning Japanese section.

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