Not knowing where to go when you’re feeling sick in a foreign country can be a dreadful experience. Many foreigners can relate to this feeling because, in Japan, you wouldn’t go to a hospital first as you would in a western country (unless its an emergency). Instead, your first stop would be at one of the many types of clinics and choosing the right one can be a headache if you don’t know the different types and what they treat.
Why you wouldn’t go straight to a Hospital
Simply put, you cannot go straight to a hospital because they often require a referral from a clinic. Some hospitals offer treatments without one, but they typically charge an extra fee. The Japanese healthcare system wants to reserve hospitals for cases in which a general clinic cannot solve. When clinics are closed at night, hospitals allow visits without a referral but prices are significantly higher than during the day so unless it’s an urgent matter, we suggest waiting until the next morning to visit a clinic first.
Different types of Clinics
Internal Medicine Clinic (ないか、内科)
Internal medicine specializes in dealing with diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of diseases. Internal medicine is the closest to a General Practitioner in Japan and is the typical “go-to” place if you start to have any kind of symptoms. Japanese companies require that you get a health checkup once a year and this is done at the internal medicine clinic. You can visit an internal medicine clinic for colds, fever, stomach-ache, food poisoning, and headache.
Ear Nose Throat Clinic (じびいんこうか、耳鼻咽喉科)
Ear nose throat (otorhinolaryngology) clinics deal with diseases around your sinus cavities. The sinus cavity is the area in which the ear, nose, and throat are all connected to, thus grouping them into one clinic. You can come to an ear nose throat clinic for cold, tonsillitis, hearing problems, and sleep problems.
Dermatology Clinic (ひふか、皮膚科)
Dermatology clinics deal with diseases related to your skin, nails, and hair. Mold is very common in Japanese houses and this can cause some to have allergies and skin problems during some encounters. You can come to a dermatology clinic for rash, skin-related allergies, acne, and warts.
Orthopedic Clinic (せいけいげか、整形外科)
Orthopedics deal with treatments for your bones and muscles. You can go to an orthopedic clinic for broken bones or torn muscles.
Obstetrician-Gynecology Clinic (さんふじんか、産婦人科・ レディーズクリニック)
Gynecology clinic deals with the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of the female reproductive system. An Obstetric clinic is a place to go for checkups during pregnancy.
Pediatric Clinic (しょうにか、小児科)
Pediatric clinics specialize in the diagnosis, treatment, and checkups for children. Instead of going to an internal medicine clinic, ear nose throat clinic, or a dermatology clinic, you would bring your children to a pediatric clinic first.
In Japan, if you need glasses, you can just go directly to an eyeglass store like Jinz. However, when you’re concerned about your eye’s health, such as deciding whether you need glasses or not, or if your eyes have gotten worse, it’s best to visit the optometrist.
Dentist in Japan is pretty much like any other country. I have not experienced this myself, but it’s known that Japanese dentists do not like to administer anesthetics unless absolutely necessary.
Other Medical Institutions
The chiropractor is where you would go for any mechanical or muscular discomfort. In Japan, chiropractic is often considered more as a massage rather than a medical institution, so, unfortunately, it's not covered by health insurance.
Acupuncture is a form of Chinese medicine involving the use of thin needles to treat various symptoms like stress and pain relief. Acupuncture isn’t too popular in Japan, but it is still considered a medical institution by the government, so they take health insurance.
Chinese Medicine (かんぽうないか、漢方内科)
Chinese medicine involves creating medicine with various types of herbs. Chinese medicine is strictly regulated by the same criteria as pharmaceutical medicine, so it should be safe to ingest at the very least. In addition, Chinese medicine is also covered by national health insurance.
These are more specialized clinics and one would normally require a referral from one of the more general clinics above before visiting. Some of these services are also offered at one of the more general clinics (for example, 消化器内科 can be offered at a 内科), and it mainly depends on the main doctor at the clinic and his credentials. Here is a list of some of the more specialized clinics.
- Gastroenterology (しょうかないか、消化器内科): Specialized branch of Internal Medicine. It focuses specifically on the digestive system and diagnoses and treats diseases in organs such as your stomach and intestine.
- Cardiology (じゅんかんきないか、循環器内科): Specialized branch of Internal Medicine and deals with diseases concerning the heart and the circulatory system.
- Neurosurgery(のうしんけいげか、脳神経外科): Neurosurgery involves diagnosis and treatment concerning the brain and the nervous system.
- Respiratory Medicine (こきゅうきないか、呼吸器内科): Respiratory medicine is a specialized branch of Internal Medicine focusing on the lungs and the respiratory system.
- Allergy Department (アレルギー科): Specializes in allergy-related concerns. One would come here to get a proper allergy reaction test.
- Colorectal surgery (こうもんか、肛門科): Proctology specializes in treating diseases and disorders regarding the anus, rectum, and colon.
- Rheumatology (リウマチ科): Rheumatology specializes in dealing with arthritis and disorders in joints and muscles.
- Urology ( 泌尿器科): Urology specializes in diagnosing and treating diseases in the urinary system.
- Cosmetic Plastic Surgery(美容整形): Branch of plastic surgery that operates on a patient to enhance his or her appearance.
- Plastic Surgeryけいせいげか、形成外科): General plastic surgery that specializes in restoring body abnormalities such as getting rid of scars and stitches.