The Gaijin Guide to Getting Sick in Japan

Language barriers are undoubtedly one of the biggest hurdles you need to conquer when living in a country where you don’t speak the native tongue. As I’ve mentioned in the past, my Japanese is currently (no, it hasn’t improved in a while…) at a level where I can comfortably order a beer, say I don’t need a receipt, and also tell if my students are slagging me off.

Unfortunately, its not quite at the level where I can say “Ermm…well I’ve had a cough for about five weeks…and…ummm…I have a fever that kind of comes and goes and…errrr…I just generally feel a bit run-down really”…so as a result, I’ve had to seek assistance with my recent medical issues which started just before my trip to Kyoto, and have lingered ever since. Man-flu, this was not. There are only so many weeks in a row you can cough in front of your students before they start to get a bit paranoid.

This is where AMDA steps in.

Image taken from http://

Save this number! Image taken from http://

Instead of having a bunch of sick honkies going from clinic to clinic asking “Eigo de daijoubu desu ka?” (Is English ok?), what AMDA does is offer a helpline for foreign residents in Japan to help guide them to a doctor that can help them in a language that’s convenient for them.

All I had to do was call the number, tell the kind lady what the problem was and where I lived. Whilst I was on the phone, she reeled off the names, addresses, phone numbers and even the working hours of the English speaking doctors at a couple of local clinics open that day and wished me well. Easy as that!

I opted for the more distant of the two clinics purely because I didn’t need to make an appointment and upon asking the receptionist the magic “Eigo de daijoubu desu ka?” and being met with a blank stare, I initially feared I’d made a bad choice.

Teramoto Clinic in Musashi Seki - for all your English speaking doctor needs!

Teramoto Clinic in Musashi Seki – for all your English speaking doctor needs!

After a rather tense 10-15 minute wait however I was greeted by a very friendly, English speaking nurse who took my temperature and blood pressure before leading me to another waiting area and – after another short wait – I was called into the consultation room by the doctor who spoke perfect English. Good job AMDA!

Once I’d explained my symptoms the first port of call was the x-ray room to examine my chest. I can’t remember ever having an x-ray in my life so I was a little worried that this was a rather serious step, but once it was over and results were back I was told by the doctor, “Well…you don’t have pneumonia”, which I’m sure you’ll agree is great news across the board.

It was decided however, that I had a bacterial chest infection which was more than likely causing both the cough and the fever symptoms. He sent me away with a prescription for antibiotics, anti-fever tablets and a bottle of cough medicine. Thanks to my monthly government health insurance payments I only had to foot 30% of the total bill, which meant I paid around ¥1600 (£10.20) for the consultation and, rather amazingly, only ¥1200 (£7.60) for the medicine cabinet I took away with me!

Here's what seven quid gets you at the doctors...

Here’s what seven quid gets you at the doctors…

Upon arriving home and taking my first dose of the prescribed medicine, I went about my daily business and got around to changing my bedding. At this point, I flipped my futon over for the first time in a while and noticed that there were a number of black mould patches on the other side. Now I’m not a doctor, but I think I may have discovered where the bacteria was coming from! Safe to say I no longer sleep on that.

With the above in mind, I’ve devised a handy three point list for expats living in Japan:

  1. Pay your health insurance.
  2. Keep the AMDA number in your phonebook.
  3. Check the underside of your futon!

Stay healthy, people!


2 responses to “The Gaijin Guide to Getting Sick in Japan

  1. It’s great they have this service! Back in the say in the countryside I remember my doctor using a rusty ah stick and telling me I should drink beer.

    • The important question is…did it work?!

      On a serious note, I can see this service becoming a godsend. One of the reasons I avoided going to the doctor for so long is because I thought it’d be too much hassle!

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