Are you sick? Injured? Dying? Perhaps I can help.
When I arrived to Japan, I had a horrible wheeze and a productive cough. In layman’s terms, I coughed and stuff came out of my lungs. I couldn’t sleep and it made it almost impossible for me to go on runs. Not a good situation to be in. So naturally I saught help with a respiratory doctor in my town.
I’d never been to a Japanese doctor before, and I had my first experience going to a hospital on my own when I was a senior in college and developed a pretty nasty lung infection about a month before I was set to depart for Japan. Before you ridicule, I was and still am a very healthy adult who takes very good care of my body, thank you very much. There was never a need.
THE FIRST THING YOU NEED TO KNOW: when you are sick, you go to a hospital. Unless there is a special clinic, you will hear your colleagues talking about “my child is in the hospital” or “I have to go to the hospital.” Do not be alarmed! It’s the equivalent of “welp, gotta go to the doctor to get this scrape looked at.” Due to the excellent healthcare here, hospital visits are common and thus usually not a time for worrying. I didn’t know that so I was adamant about going to a clinic, but I don’t think it would have made any sort of difference to be honest.
Here is a vocabulary list/timeline of my average experience at the clinic:
- 内科（ないか）: Internal Medicine. This is where I went for my respiratory issues.
- 受付（うけつけ）：Reception Desk. Go to this when you first get here. You put your name on a list and you will be called on a first-come, first-served basis. Avoid peak hours like lunch, and don’t go too close to closing time.
- 初診です（しょしん）：This is my first visit! This is very important, as they will give you a questionnaire to fill out. Bring a dictionary if you are not up to date with medical kanji. It will ask about your symptoms and medications and smoking/drinking habits.
- 保険証（ほけんじょう）Insurance Card: You will have one from JET. Bring this and give it to the receptionist with your completed survey. Your copay will be cheap, around maybe 1000 yen if even. I got a chest X ray for the equivalent of $11. You don’t pay till you are done so sit tight.
- 診察券（しんさつけん）：Patient ID Card. If you go to a hospital, not a clinic, you may recieve this. It basically acts as a patient ID card for you to use each time you visit.
- 診察室（しんさつしつ）：Medical Exam Room. You will go here to be examined by the doctor. If you were like me, you will get blood drawn by the nurse first. She will also take your height and weight.
From here, vocabulary will vary. Please understand that you will need a functioning conversational level of Japanese from here on out. The doctor will ask you about your symptoms so try to know how to explain them. Worst case: take a JTE or a Japanese speaking friend with you to translate. When in doubt, pointing to an area and saying 「ここが痛い（いたい）」or “This hurts” will help.
So when that was all done and finished:
- 待合室（まちあいしつ）：Waiting Room. Go back out here and wait. If the doctor prescribed you medicine, you need a prescription sheet from him or the receptionist.
- 処方箋（しょほうせん）：Prescription. After you get the documents for this, THEN you pay. After you pay, you are free to go to the pharmacy.
- 薬（くすり）：Medicine, in its most general term.
- 薬局（やっきょく）：Pharmacy.They are usually quite near to the clinic. Mine was next door. Walk in, give them your prescription, and wait while they fill it. The will then explain what each medicine does.They may even give you a prescription book, which counts as a record for all prescriptions filled at that pharmacy.
And that’s about it. Unless you experience asthma-like symptoms like I apparently did, your situation will probably be a little different. I ended up getting a short term inhaler and all is well now. Anywho, I hope this can help you navigate through your first experience at a Japanese doctor!
Christine Zawlocki is a 2nd year ALT in Kanoya, Kagoshima