The Essential Guide to Accessing Healthcare Services Safely in Japan

English version

Japan is a country known for its advanced healthcare system and cutting-edge technology, attracting a large number of visitors and foreign residents from around the world. However, those unfamiliar with Japan’s medical system and culture may feel anxious when faced with injuries or illnesses. This guide aims to assist foreign individuals in Japan by providing them with the necessary information to access healthcare services confidently. It includes practical details based on real experiences, such as the types and features of medical institutions in Japan, how to handle emergencies, identifying medical facilities where English is spoken, understanding the process of medical consultations, and methods of payment for medical expenses. Additionally, it addresses the role of patients in a cross-cultural medical system and cultural considerations to ensure a reassuring treatment experience. We hope this guide serves as a valuable resource for foreigners, enabling them to approach healthcare management in Japan with confidence.

  1. Emergency Response in Japan
    1. 1. Emergency Contact
    2. 2. Choosing a Hospital
    3. 3. Providing Symptoms and Information
    4. 4. Preparing for Ambulance Arrival
    5. 5. Accompanying and Documentation
  2. Types and Characteristics of Medical Facilities in Japan
    1. 1. Hospital (Byouin / 病院)
    2. 2. Clinic (Kurinikku / クリニック)
    3. 3. Dental Clinic (Shika Iin / 歯科医院)
    4. 4. Pediatric Clinic (Shounika / 小児科)
    5. 5. Obstetrics and Gynecology Clinic (Sanfujinka / 産婦人科)
    6. 6. Rehabilitation Facility (Rihabiritēshon Shisetsu / リハビリテーション施設)
    7. 7. Psychiatric Clinic (Seishinka / 精神科)
    8. 8. Elderly Health Care Facility (Roujin Hoken Shisetsu / 老人保健施設)
    9. 9. Specialized Medical Facilities
  3. The Importance of Communication with Physicians and Nurses in Japan
    1. 1. Overcoming Language Barriers
    2. 2. Actively Asking Questions
    3. 3. Understanding Cultural Differences
    4. 4. Expressing Gratitude
    5. 5. Sharing Information
    6. 6. Building Long-term Relationships
  4. Typical Procedure of Medical Consultation at Healthcare Facilities in Japan
    1. 1. Reception and Issuance of Consultation Card
    2. 2. Waiting in the Waiting Room
    3. 3. Interview and Examination in the Examination Room
    4. 4. Conducting Tests or Treatments
    5. 5. Explanation of Examination Results and Treatment Plan
    6. 6. Billing and Scheduling Next Appointment
    7. 7. Discharge or Departure from the Healthcare Facility
  5. Common Types of Illnesses and Injuries in Japan
    1. 1. Influenza
    2. 2. Bruises and Sprains
    3. 3. Common Cold
    4. 4. Gastroenteritis
    5. 5. Fractures
    6. 6. Allergic Reactions
    7. Management and Prevention
  6. Types of Health Insurance in Japan
    1. 1. National Health Insurance (Local Health Insurance)
    2. 2. Employees’ Health Insurance (Social Insurance)
    3. 3. Government Employees’ Mutual Aid Association
    4. 4. Specific Health Insurance
  7. Payment Methods for Medical Expenses
    1. 1. Insurance Card and Co-payment
    2. 2. Co-payment
    3. 3. High-Cost Medical Expense System
    4. Significance of Health Insurance in Daily Life
  8. Cultural Considerations for Using Medical Facilities in Japan
    1. 1. Respect for Appointments and Time
    2. 2. Reception and Greetings
    3. 3. Communication with Physicians
    4. 4. Attire and Personal Appearance
    5. 5. Handling of Medical Information
    6. 6. Payment Methods and Receipts
  9. Summary
    1. 関連

Emergency Response in Japan

In Japan, knowing the proper procedures to swiftly access appropriate medical services during emergencies is crucial. Here are the key points:

1. Emergency Contact

In Japan, dialing “119” summons an ambulance during emergencies. This number operates 24/7 and is toll-free from any phone. When calling, calmly explain the situation and accurately convey the necessary medical services required. It’s essential to provide specific details such as the type and location of injury, the patient’s current condition (consciousness, breathing status, etc.).

2. Choosing a Hospital

Hospitals providing emergency care are referred to as “Emergency Medical Centers” or “Designated Emergency Hospitals,” equipped with specially trained staff and necessary facilities. While some regions have designated Emergency Medical Centers, general hospitals may also accept emergency patients even if not officially designated. However, it’s advisable to confirm by phone beforehand.

3. Providing Symptoms and Information

When calling for an ambulance, provide the following information:

● Detailed symptoms or condition of the patient
● Current location (address, nearby landmarks, building names)
● Patient’s age and gender
● If needed, basic health status or medical history of the patient

For non-Japanese speakers, requesting information in English when calling can facilitate smoother communication.

4. Preparing for Ambulance Arrival

Ensure the safety of the surroundings until the ambulance arrives. If necessary, seek cooperation from those nearby to guide the ambulance to the location without confusion. Inform emergency responders of any concerns or changes in the patient’s condition to help them prepare accordingly.

5. Accompanying and Documentation

Accompanying the patient in the ambulance to the hospital is permissible. Particularly for foreigners, considering accompanying the patient for interpretation or support may be necessary. During emergencies, having identification (passport), health insurance card, and information about medical history and current medications ready can expedite hospital procedures.

These steps outline the basic procedures for emergency response in Japan. While Japan’s medical system aims for prompt and efficient responses, providing specific information helps mitigate misunderstandings due to language or cultural differences. We hope this guide assists foreigners in accessing medical services in Japan with confidence.

Types and Characteristics of Medical Facilities in Japan

In Japan, there are diverse options when it comes to medical facilities. Here, we’ll detail the main types of medical facilities and their respective characteristics:

1. Hospital (Byouin / 病院)

Hospitals are the fundamental medical institutions in Japan, providing general outpatient and inpatient treatments. Larger hospitals are equipped with specialist doctors and state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment capable of handling various diseases and conditions. Hospitals typically operate 24/7 and may also provide emergency medical services. Depending on the region, hospitals may include Emergency Medical Centers or be designated as Emergency Medical Hospitals, specializing in emergency care.

2. Clinic (Kurinikku / クリニック)

Clinics are typically smaller healthcare facilities specializing in specific medical fields. They offer general medical care and specialized treatments such as internal medicine, pediatrics, dermatology, and ophthalmology. Due to their smaller size, clinics often have shorter waiting times and a more personalized atmosphere compared to hospitals.

3. Dental Clinic (Shika Iin / 歯科医院)

Dental clinics specialize in dental treatments, including routine dental care, periodontal treatment, cosmetic dentistry, and orthodontics. Similar to clinics, dental clinics offer direct communication between patients and dentists and generally have shorter waiting times.

4. Pediatric Clinic (Shounika / 小児科)

Pediatric clinics specialize in the health management and treatment of infants and children. They provide services such as child development monitoring, vaccinations, and treatment for common illnesses like colds and flu. Pediatric clinics often have child-friendly environments and play areas.

5. Obstetrics and Gynecology Clinic (Sanfujinka / 産婦人科)

Obstetrics and gynecology clinics specialize in women’s health, focusing on pregnancy, childbirth, and the treatment of female-specific diseases and conditions. Services include prenatal check-ups, childbirth, and menopausal treatments. Japan offers comprehensive hospitals combining obstetrics and gynecology clinics with general hospitals.

6. Rehabilitation Facility (Rihabiritēshon Shisetsu / リハビリテーション施設)

Rehabilitation facilities are dedicated to the recovery of physical functions and the treatment of sequelae from injuries and illnesses. They provide rehabilitation programs conducted by physical therapists and occupational therapists to support patients’ return to daily life. These facilities vary from outpatient rehabilitation centers to inpatient rehabilitation hospitals.

7. Psychiatric Clinic (Seishinka / 精神科)

Psychiatric clinics specialize in the treatment of mental illnesses and mental health care. They offer treatments and counseling for conditions such as depression, schizophrenia, and anxiety disorders, provided by psychiatrists and psychologists. Many psychiatric clinics are part of clinics or university hospitals.

8. Elderly Health Care Facility (Roujin Hoken Shisetsu / 老人保健施設)

Elderly health care facilities integrate medical care and nursing care for the elderly. They offer services such as nursing home care (special nursing homes for the elderly), day care services, and home nursing services, supporting the health management and daily living of elderly individuals. Japan provides diverse services tailored to its aging society.

9. Specialized Medical Facilities

Japan also boasts various specialized medical facilities, including cancer centers specializing in cancer treatment, university hospitals offering advanced surgeries and treatments, and advanced medical centers incorporating cutting-edge medical technologies. These facilities address complex diseases and conditions with advanced medical expertise.

These medical facilities in Japan offer a wide range of choices for healthcare management and medical needs. When using medical facilities in Japan, it’s important for foreigners to choose the appropriate facility based on their medical condition and required medical services. Additionally, if language barriers exist, it’s recommended to confirm medical institutions that can communicate in English beforehand. Japan’s healthcare system is globally renowned for its advanced medical technologies and compassionate healthcare services.

The Importance of Communication with Physicians and Nurses in Japan

Effective communication with physicians and nurses is crucial in Japan to ensure accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment. Japanese healthcare facilities emphasize mutual understanding and building trust between patients and medical staff. Here are key approaches and specific points to foster good communication:

1. Overcoming Language Barriers

For non-Japanese speakers or those unfamiliar with medical terminology, communication can be challenging. However, many university hospitals and some clinics provide English-speaking staff or interpreter services. Checking this information on the healthcare facility’s website or at reception beforehand is advisable. Providing translated documents regarding medical history or diagnosis can also aid in mutual understanding.

2. Actively Asking Questions

If you have doubts or concerns during consultations, actively asking questions to physicians and nurses is encouraged in Japanese healthcare settings. Understanding your medical condition, treatment options, potential side effects, and lifestyle adjustments through clarifications from medical staff enhances your understanding and cooperation in treatment.

3. Understanding Cultural Differences

Cultural values and customs can influence medical practices in Japan. Differences in illness perception or family involvement may exist. Embracing and understanding these cultural differences fosters smoother communication with physicians and nurses, enhancing mutual trust.

4. Expressing Gratitude

In Japan, expressing gratitude towards medical staff for their treatment and care is common and appreciated. Verbally or in writing, conveying appreciation boosts motivation among healthcare professionals. Despite cultural preferences for modesty or humility, sincere expressions of gratitude strengthen the patient-care provider relationship.

5. Sharing Information

Effective medical support hinges on sharing detailed information about your health status, daily life changes, and medication adherence with physicians and nurses. Transparent communication facilitates tailored diagnosis and treatment plans, optimizing healthcare outcomes.

6. Building Long-term Relationships

Maintaining ongoing communication with medical teams, even after treatment or care concludes, holds value in Japanese healthcare. For chronic conditions or rehabilitation needs, a trusted relationship with healthcare providers supports continuity of care and timely support during health checks or setbacks.

In conclusion, Japan’s healthcare system prioritizes patient engagement and informed decision-making through proactive communication. Overcoming language and cultural barriers, actively participating in discussions, and maintaining respectful dialogue contribute to receiving high-quality healthcare services tailored to individual needs.

Typical Procedure of Medical Consultation at Healthcare Facilities in Japan

Here’s a detailed explanation of the typical procedure for medical consultations at healthcare facilities in Japan. While specifics may vary based on the type of facility and the nature of the medical service, understanding the basic flow can help anticipate and prepare for appointments.

1. Reception and Issuance of Consultation Card

To begin medical treatment, you first obtain a consultation card at the reception of the healthcare facility. You present your health insurance card, indicate whether you have an appointment, and state the purpose of your visit. For first-time visitors, you may need to register basic information and complete a health questionnaire. The consultation card includes details such as your assigned number, type of medical service, and the name of the attending physician, which is essential during your visit.

2. Waiting in the Waiting Room

After receiving your consultation card, you wait in the designated waiting area until your turn for consultation arrives. In Japanese healthcare settings, waiting times vary depending on appointment schedules and the influx of urgent cases. Pay attention to signage and announcements in the waiting room to know when it’s your turn, and return to the reception when called.

3. Interview and Examination in the Examination Room

According to the information on your consultation card regarding the medical service and physician’s name, you are guided to the examination room. For initial consultations, discussions with the physician commence. During the interview, provide detailed information about your symptoms, medical history, current condition, and any specific concerns. Based on this information, the physician conducts physical examinations (such as auscultation, palpation, blood pressure measurement) and determines a diagnosis and treatment plan. Actively communicate any questions or anxieties during the consultation to facilitate effective communication with the physician.

4. Conducting Tests or Treatments

Based on the examination findings, additional tests (blood tests, X-rays, ultrasound, etc.) may be deemed necessary and conducted in specialized testing rooms or examination rooms. Results from these tests are utilized by the physician for diagnosis, which may involve additional waiting in the waiting room. If treatments (such as intravenous drips, dressing changes, prescription of medications) are required, they are administered by nurses or medical staff.

5. Explanation of Examination Results and Treatment Plan

Following the examination and test results, the physician explains the diagnosis and treatment plan. This includes explanations of your condition, treatment options, prescribed medications, and lifestyle adjustments. Detailed information is provided to ensure mutual understanding, including treatment plans, prognosis, and the necessity of follow-up visits.

6. Billing and Scheduling Next Appointment

Upon completion of the consultation, you proceed to settle the bill. In Japan, present your health insurance card for payment of medical fees. This may include out-of-pocket expenses or receiving invoices at a later date. Additionally, confirm your next appointment if necessary and update your consultation card. Arrange for follow-up visits or re-issuance of prescribed medications through the reception as required.

7. Discharge or Departure from the Healthcare Facility

Once the medical treatment is concluded, you depart from the healthcare facility. Depending on the hospital or clinic, discharge procedures may be required, and specific instructions (dietary restrictions, rest, physical therapy, etc.) may be provided. Follow the guidance of physicians and nurses for appropriate home care and lifestyle adjustments post-treatment.

Japanese healthcare facilities prioritize patient-centered care and meticulous medical support. Understanding the procedure of medical consultations and actively participating in your healthcare management facilitates effective treatment. If you have any questions or concerns during your visit, do not hesitate to consult with physicians and nurses to collaboratively achieve treatment goals.

Common Types of Illnesses and Injuries in Japan

Here is a general overview of common illnesses and injuries frequently encountered in Japan. Early intervention is crucial, as severity of symptoms and individual health conditions may necessitate consultation and treatment at specialized medical facilities.

1. Influenza

Influenza is a viral infection that typically spreads during winter. Symptoms include high fever, muscle aches, fatigue, cough, and runny nose. Prevention is recommended through influenza vaccinations.

2. Bruises and Sprains

Bruises and sprains result from accidents or falls during sports or daily activities, causing joint pain, swelling, and restricted movement. Immediate treatment includes rest and cold compression. In severe cases, X-rays or MRI scans may be performed for imaging diagnosis.

3. Common Cold

The common cold is a respiratory infection caused by viral infections, presenting symptoms such as sneezing, sore throat, runny nose, and cough. While it usually resolves on its own, persistent high fever or difficulty breathing warrants medical consultation.

4. Gastroenteritis

Gastroenteritis is inflammation of the stomach and intestines caused by viral or bacterial infections, with symptoms including nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. Treatment involves fluid replacement and rest, with severe cases requiring medications or intravenous drips.

5. Fractures

Fractures occur from accidents or sports injuries, involving bone fractures or deformities. Symptoms include intense pain, swelling, and deformity, requiring urgent medical attention. X-rays and other imaging diagnostics determine the extent and location of fractures, often treated with immobilization or surgery depending on severity.

6. Allergic Reactions

Allergic reactions can occur to substances like pollen, food, or animal fur. Symptoms include rash, itching, difficulty breathing, and coughing, sometimes progressing to respiratory distress or anaphylactic shock. Avoiding allergens is key to prevention, while symptomatic treatment or allergy therapy may be necessary in severe cases.

Management and Prevention

Key points for managing these illnesses and injuries include:

●Early consultation and treatment

Seek medical attention promptly upon symptom onset for timely intervention.

●First aid

Administer basic first aid (cooling, compression, elevation) to prevent symptom progression.


Vaccinations, maintaining hygienic environments, and adopting healthy lifestyles help prevent illnesses and injuries.

While dealing with common illnesses and injuries in Japan requires appropriate management, early consultation and proper treatment at medical facilities facilitate faster recovery. Maintaining awareness of prevention and promptly addressing health concerns are essential for personal health maintenance.

Types of Health Insurance in Japan

Here’s a detailed explanation of the healthcare insurance system and medical expense payments in Japan. Known as the universal health insurance system, all residents are mandated to enroll in health insurance, aiming to reduce the burden of medical expenses and provide extensive and high-quality medical services.

In Japan, the main types of health insurance include:

1. National Health Insurance (Local Health Insurance)

Managed by local municipalities, this insurance covers residents such as self-employed individuals and unemployed persons who meet specific criteria. Premiums are income-based and vary by municipality.

2. Employees’ Health Insurance (Social Insurance)

This insurance covers employees of companies and their families, with premiums deducted directly from their salaries. Health insurance and pension schemes are typically managed together, paid as social insurance contributions.

3. Government Employees’ Mutual Aid Association

This insurance is for national and local government employees, educators, and certain professions. Contributions are deducted from their salaries.

4. Specific Health Insurance

Operated independently by specific industries, organizations, or unions, this insurance typically covers employees working in those specific sectors.

Payment Methods for Medical Expenses

1. Insurance Card and Co-payment

When visiting a medical institution, present your health insurance card (insurance card) at reception. The card includes basic information about the insured (name, date of birth), insurance number, and type of health insurance coverage. Medical institutions bill the insurer directly based on the insurance card for consultations and prescribed medications.

2. Co-payment

Patients may be responsible for a portion of medical expenses as a co-payment. This amount varies depending on the type of treatment or medication prescribed, often requiring patients to cover approximately 30% of the medical costs. For extensive treatments or hospitalizations, the co-payment amount may increase, though there are systems in place to reduce this burden based on income and age.

3. High-Cost Medical Expense System

The high-cost medical expense system applies when medical expenses exceed a certain amount annually. It reduces the co-payment amount for expenses exceeding the set limit, alleviating financial burdens associated with medical costs.

Significance of Health Insurance in Daily Life

The health insurance system supports health maintenance and equal access to healthcare for the population. By reducing the financial burden of medical expenses, individuals can access medical services with peace of mind. In Japan, carrying a health insurance card and smoothly navigating medical consultations at hospitals or clinics are standard practices.

This system ensures that residents can access necessary healthcare services efficiently while managing their healthcare costs effectively.

Cultural Considerations for Using Medical Facilities in Japan

Here is a detailed explanation of cultural points that foreigners should be aware of when using medical facilities in Japan. Understanding these cultural nuances can lead to a smoother healthcare experience compared to other countries.

1. Respect for Appointments and Time

In Japan, medical institutions typically operate on an appointment basis. It’s crucial to arrive on time for consultations and tests. Physicians and staff highly value punctuality and strive to adhere to schedules. Arriving early with ample time to check in at reception is advisable.

2. Reception and Greetings

When checking in at a medical facility, polite greetings are essential. It’s helpful to prepare your name and reservation number in advance to facilitate smooth communication at reception. Additionally, in reception areas and waiting rooms, it’s customary to avoid using mobile phones and speaking loudly.

3. Communication with Physicians

Japanese doctors often communicate in a calm and gentle manner. While it’s important to ask questions or express concerns openly, maintaining a respectful tone is recommended. If explanations from the doctor are unclear, don’t hesitate to ask for clarification and more detailed information.

4. Attire and Personal Appearance

Visitors to medical facilities in Japan are expected to dress modestly and maintain cleanliness. Particularly in hospitals or clinics, appropriate attire shows consideration for other patients and staff. It’s also important to maintain a clean appearance when interacting with doctors and nurses.

5. Handling of Medical Information

Japan strictly protects personal information, especially in healthcare settings. Medical institutions handle patient information with utmost care and do not disclose it to third parties. When providing personal information during consultations or treatments, trust in the safeguarding of your privacy.

6. Payment Methods and Receipts

Medical expenses are usually settled in cash or by credit card. After presenting your health insurance card, you may be required to pay for co-payments or prescribed medications. If you need a receipt, clearly request one at reception.

Understanding these cultural considerations can facilitate a smoother experience when using medical facilities in Japan. Respect and awareness of differences in healthcare environments and cultures are key to ensuring a positive healthcare experience.


Here are key points to keep in mind when using medical facilities in Japan, which can help ensure a smooth healthcare experience:

1. Respect for Appointments and Time

Medical facilities operate on an appointment basis. Be punctual for scheduled appointments and respect waiting room times.

2. Reception and Greetings

When checking in, polite greetings and clear communication of reservation numbers and names are important.

3. Communication with Physicians

Communicate with doctors in a calm manner and feel free to ask questions or raise concerns. If anything is unclear, don’t hesitate to seek clarification.

4. Attire and Personal Appearance

Maintain a clean and modest appearance. Appropriate attire is expected when visiting medical facilities.

5. Handling of Medical Information

Personal information is strictly protected. Medical institutions ensure the secure handling of information provided during consultations.

6. Payment Methods and Receipts

Medical expenses are typically paid in cash or by credit card. After presenting your health insurance card, request a receipt when paying co-payments or other fees.

Understanding and adhering to these points can enhance your experience when using medical facilities in Japan, ensuring a positive interaction with healthcare services.