We all want to have our holiday to pan out smoothly, without no health problems or catching any diseases… but sometimes our bodies just don’t cooperate!
In this article, we’ll give you some important tips for what to do as a traveller if you get caught in an emergency or need to visit a clinic in Japan!
What to do in an emergency
The first thing we learn to do in an emergency is to phone for help. Every country has its own emergency service or ambulance phone number. When travelling to a foreign country, it is essential to learn the emergency numbers in that place, just in case it happens to you or one of your companions.
In Japan, there are two emergency numbers. There is one for medical emergencies and the fire department (119) and another for the police (110).
You can call these numbers free of charge from any phone in Japan, including pay phones. There are English speaking operators available in many areas but their language ability may vary, so remember to speak slowly and clearly.
The Tokyo Ambulance and Fire Department has instructions in several languages about what to say on the call (access it here). Make sure you know the address or landmarks near where you are and the name of your hotel.
You might be worried about a fee for being picked up by ambulance, but in Japan this is free. The charge is only for the services at the hospital.
Finding English-speaking doctors
So it might not be an emergency, but you still need to see a doctor. Maybe you are sick with the flu, or developed a strange rash.
If you are travelling in Tokyo, it may be a relief to know that English-speaking doctors are easier to find than you may think. There are many clinics run by foreigners too. For example, American Clinic Tokyo offers services by a native English speaking doctor, however you will have to call to make an appointment in advance. AMDA International Medical Information Center provides multilingual telephone services to foreign residents in Japan as well.
If you’re a bit further away, it may be harder to find a clinic with English-speaking staff. If you can’t find one, it is recommended to bring an interpreter with you to the clinic.
Clinics in Japan
If you decide to go to a Japanese clinic rather than one that specifically caters to foreigners, the consultation process might be different to at home. Maybe in your country, the first place you go is a GP or family doctor. However, compared to western countries, clinics in Japan are very specific as to the specialty of the doctor. Because general practitioners are so rare in Japan, it is not necessary for a referral before going to a specialist. For example, people will go straight to the ear, nose and throat doctor when suffering from the flu, or a dermatologist if they have a rash or a case of acne.
When you enter the clinic, you will be likely asked for a copy of your health insurance. Most clinics only accept the Japanese National Health Insurance (NHI) which is for residents of Japan. If you are on travel insurance from your home country, you will have to pay up front and apply to be reimbursed by your insurance company later. Also, many clinics only accept cash so remember to withdraw money before going.
Although we are all careful about our health, sometimes we end up in undesirable situations. We hope this article helped take some of the unfamiliarity out of getting medical care in Japan.
See you next time!
Emergency Procedure in Japan Website
American Clinic Tokyo Website
Information on Hospital and Clinics in Japan
Medical Emergency Guide by JNTO
AMDA International Medical Information Center (for foreign residents in Japan)
Graphics and illustrations by Tuna