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Health Care in Japan for English Speakers

Post: Tuesday May 9, 2017

Medical care in Japan is comparable to that found in any Western country. Japan has a broad range of clinics and hospitals that offer all types of medical care, from checkups and routine vaccinations to complex surgeries and emergency care. That said, the health system in Japan does differ quite a bit from that of many other countries. For one thing, it is very difficult to find a general practitioner here, and you will more often than not go to different specialists depending on your situation. Everyone needs healthcare, and everyone should know what's involved when moving to a new country. To help you navigate as well as find some English resources for your medical needs, here are the basics of healthcare in Japan.

Healthcare in Japan

Overview of Healthcare in Japan

Everyone who lives in Japan is enrolled in the insurance system. Whatever visa you have (other than a tourist visa, with exceptions), you are required to enroll in it. The payment system also differs based on the time and length of the insurance that you have. However, for those who are employed, their company almost always handles everything for you regarding enrollment and monthly payments. It is also important to know that while there are various types of insurance available, enrollment in the National Health Insurance system is mandatory.

Most medical institutions operate on a non-profit basis, and when you are enrolled in the National Health Insurance, you almost always pay just 30% of your total bill. Depending on your age and annual income, the copayment may be lower. In Japan, anything that is considered medical treatment can fall under insurance. However, special treatments like plastic surgery will not fall under the health insurance plan.

Another thing to note about healthcare in Japan is its focus on preventive treatment (basically, attempting to prevent health problems before they happen) in contrast to reactive treatment (treating symptoms and diseases as they come). The preventive focus can be seen in the emphasis on routine medical care over an individual's lifetime. Everyone over the age of 40 is encouraged to receive a free medical checkup within a certain timeframe (after which they are eligible again the following year), and an annual company “kenko shindan” (health check) are just two examples of this mindset.

Finally, as mentioned above, many people (those from the US, Britain or France, for example) may be surprised at the difficulty of finding a general practitioner in Japan. In fact, in Japan's healthcare system, doctors are rarely divided into GPs and specialists. The section below will provide further information on hospitals and clinics as well as where to get specialized versus general treatment in this type of system.

Clinics vs. Hospitals in Japan

Clinics and hospitals in Japan are quite different from their Western counterparts. One difference is size, which will be explained below. Another difference is that the specialization for hospitals is quite broad, while clinics offer a single specialization. But whether you choose to go to a hospital or clinic, always bring your medical insurance card, as well as your residence card if you have one.


In nearly every Japanese neighborhood, you will mostly encounter these five types of clinics: Internal Medicine practitioners (Naika), Ophthalmologists (Ganka), Dermatologists (Hifuka), and lastly – and perhaps the most common – Dentists (Shika). Clinics that are open everyday or until late in the evening are quite difficult to find. As most are closed on a certain weekday (dentists are usually closed on Thursdays, for example), it would be wise to call them up to set an appointment before going. You might also want to confirm if the doctor you are seeing can actually speak English; most can to some extent.


Hospitals are larger than clinics, usually offering more general care across a wide range of common illnesses. People usually go to an Internal Medicine Clinic first before they are referred to a bigger hospital by their doctor if needed. For hospitals, consultation hours are generally in the morning from 9AM to 11AM, depending on the hospital. Most hospitals are closed for non-emergency patients on Saturdays, Sundays, and national holidays.

For both clinics and hospitals in Japan, it is best to prepare cash before going as credit cards are not always accepted.

Pharmacies and Drugstores

In Japan, pharmacies (not to be confused with the general drugstore) are almost always located beside clinics and inside hospitals. Medical dosages are quite different in Japan when compared to other countries. Over-the-counter medicine in Japan is generally very weak, while prescription drugs can vary. Just as in a hospital or clinic, you should bring your residence card when going to a pharmacy. When you visit them for the first time, some will ask you for your Medicine Booklet (o-kusuri techou), a record of your prescriptions; you have the option to make one if you don't have it on hand. You can also bring this with you to the clinic or hospital to help keep your doctors informed about your medical history.

It may also be a good idea to ask about generic medicine, as the price difference for the generic brand and other commercial ones can be quite different. Almost always, the pharmacists will say that it is the same thing.

A final note on Japanese pharmacies: In the event that you run out of a given prescription, you cannot simply go back to the pharmacy to ask for more of it. Obtaining more medicine requires going back to the doctor, getting another prescription, and bringing that to the pharmacy to be filled once again. For more detailed information on pharmacies in Japan, including detailed prescription information and a list of English-speaking locations, read our article below.

Finding an English-Speaking Medical Practitioner

English Speaking Doctors Hospitals in Tokyo

If you need to locate English-speaking practitioners for your medical needs in Japan, start by looking at the list of English-speaking medical facilities compiled by PLAZA HOMES.

If you can't find the appropriate care there, you can try the Himawari search engine provided by the Tokyo Metropolitan Medical Facility Information service, which allows you to search by location or train station to identify medical facilities convenient to your needs.

Additional English Help


  • The AMDA International Medical Information Center provides general information and guidance to resident foreigners about healthcare in Japan, including about how to fill out various medical forms.

Japan Helpline

  • is Japan's only 24-hour non-profit nationwide emergency assistance service for the international community. The helpline provides assistance for any situation, from emergencies to simple inquiries concerning medical needs. Around-the-clock telephone advice is also available at 0570-000-911

Tokyo English Life Line (TELL)

  • The Tokyo English Life Line provides free, anonymous support and counseling if you need any sort of assistance. Call 03-5774-0992 between 9 am – 11 pm daily.

International Mental Health Professionals Japan

  • International Mental Health Professionals Japan (IMHPJ) is an association that provides assistance to the international community in Japan. They can help you get access to a wide range of mental health services.

Dr. Passport

  • Mobile medical support app for iOS and Android. A multilingual tool you can use to translate symptoms and medical history for local medical professionals.

Emergency Information

While most clinics and hospitals in Japan are closed during national holidays, the emergency rooms of most larger hospitals are open all-day, every day year-round. In the event of an emergency, dial 119. You can get an ambulance to pick you up for free, keeping in mind that care administered afterward is not. English-speaking operators are on duty 24 hours a day.

Just in case, make sure you are able to say your address and your phone number in Japanese. Since finding an address in Tokyo can be tricky even for locals. It would also be helpful to be able to describe nearby landmarks in case the ambulance driver needs guidance to your location.

If an emergency happens and you find yourself in need of translation, call the Emergency Translation Service at Tel: 03-5285-8185 (5pm - 8pm weekdays, 9am - 8pm weekends and holidays). They provide translation over the phone in English, Chinese, Korean, Thai, and Spanish for foreign patients who need assistance.

Now you know the Basics of Healthcare in Japan


This guide should have given you a general idea about medical care in Japan in comparison to other countries, including some insights into Japanese healthcare culture, how clinics and hospitals in Japan are different, and where you can get some English-speaking assistance for your medical needs. See below for other information about topics connected to healthcare in Japan.


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