May 28, 2018
It may or may not be challenging accessing and navigating health care system in Japan but that is purely dependent upon your circumstances and medical needs.
From experience, I realized that first things must always be dealt with first. So for starters ensure that upon arrival in the country you are registered at your municipal office as soon as possible (within 2 weeks) and sign up for the national health insurance. You need to take required documents for this process. Once issued with your health insurance card a part of your future medical care problems will be solved as you will only be required to pay 30 % of most fees at facilities that accept it including clinics, hospitals, dentists and pharmacies.
If you have children they will also be issued a hospital card to go along with the insurance card (added benefits to be had with that too).
Requirements when visiting a medical facility.
1. If it is your first visit to a hospital you will most likely have to call to make an appointment. If it is a local clinic you can just walk in and speak to the receptionist who will inform you if your situation can be dealt with there- if 'yes,' your name is added to the list of patients to see the doctor and if 'no,' other facilities will be suggested.
2. On the day of the appointment you will need to take your, insurance card (maybe passport) and if your Japanese is none existent - a Japanese friend who can translate for you. Point to note: when making an appointment try to find out if there are any English speaking staff at the facility as this can make a huge difference to how you function on the day of your appointment. If you have no Japanese friend you could get help here. If you are pregnant you must also take the Maternal and Child Health Handbook and prenatal checkup coupons that you were given when you registered your pregnancy at the city hall. After registration you will be issued with a hospital card to be used at subsequent visits. This must always be presented along with your insurance card.
From this step onward it is relatively easy to navigate. In the absence of English speaking staff or a Japanese friend to accompany you on your visits just ensure you know and are able to use simple Japanese words/ phrases to explain your problems. For example, if you are having a headache you should be able to say “ atama ga itai” or just to say “hatsunetsu” for fever. Most times the doctors or nurses will understand what you are trying to say and they will appreciate it and be very helpful if you just try to use what little Japanese you know.
3. Make sure you have a translator app on your phone. I use Google translate as it gets the job done. It may not be word-for-word accurate in all contexts but it covers the basic grounds; besides, I’ve never used it with a Japanese person who doesn’t understand what I’m asking or trying to communicate.
4. A personal tip: I purchased a simple zippered portfolio at the Daiso store in which I keep all medical related documents and I always take it with me whenever I’m going out.
You can’t prepare for an emergency but if your documents are on hand it will make your processing easier and could be life saving.
For additional information check with your individual municipal office to see what information, documents or procedures are required for health care in Japan.
Hi! I’m an educator/stay-at-home mom with an educator husband, a teenage daughter and six months old son. I loooove to cook, gets excited about curries and have a serious weakness for pastry especially cakes! Enjoy being outdoors, reading and sewing.