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Navigating Clinics and Hospitals in Japan

17 Mar 2020 3:29 PM | Deleted user

This month’s blog post is coming out a little later than usual as I have been wracking my brain trying to come up with a topic that is relevant and helpful but not about Covid19, as there are already a zillion articles on that coronavirus. Perhaps we could all use a little break from thinking about the pandemic; not to mention, last month’s post was about how to stay healthy during the usual cold and flu season and throughout this epidemic.

Just as I was about to give up on coming up with a helpful topic for this month’s post I was inspired by a thread I read in an online group for foreign residents in Japan. A person was complaining that they had been turned away from a clinic for having cold symptoms. They thought the clinic was refusing to treat them due to coronavirus fears, however a commenter pointed out that the original poster had gone to the wrong kind of clinic. Apparently the person had tried to seek treatment for their cold symptoms at a clinic specializing in heart conditions, so they were turned away.

I myself had a similar experience way back the first time I got sick after coming to Japan. I went to the closest clinic in my neighbourhood with my little dictionary ready to explain that I had a terrible sore throat only to be met with a very confused look at the reception desk. The receptionist couldn’t speak English, I couldn’t speak Japanese, and we had a hell of a time before I managed to work out that I was at a pediatric clinic! Luckily, it wasn’t busy and the nice doctor took pity on me and saw me, even though I was well past the age of her usual patients.

To help you avoid the same problem, I have assembled a list of different types of doctors you can find here in Japan. A big hospital may have all of these types of doctors in it, while a small clinic might only have one type of doctor. I have listed the type of clinic/hospital department in kanji, followed by romaji in brackets so you can read it on signs.

  • 内科 (naika) : Internal medicine. You can go to this type of clinic for cold and flu symptoms, tummy troubles, general malaise, mysterious symptoms etc. and when you are not exactly sure what type of doctor to see. 
  • 総合診療部 (sōgō shinryō-bu) : General practice. You can go to this type of clinic for the same problems that you would go to an internal medicine physician for and they are especially handy when you really aren’t sure what type of doctor you should be going to. However, they are not nearly as common in Japan as internal medicine clinics are. 
  • 耳鼻咽喉科 (jibiinkōka)/ 耳鼻科 (jibika) : Otorhinolaryngology (aka the place to find ENTs/Ear Nose Throat doctors). You can try this type of clinic for cold or allergy symptoms, as well as for hearing problems, ringing in the ears, voice problems etc. 
  • アレルギー科 (arerugī-ka) : allergology (aka the place to find allergists)
  • 歯科 (shika) : Dentistry.
  • 精神科 (seishinka) : Psychiatry
  • 心療内科 (shinryounaika) : Psychosomatic Internal Medicine/Psychotherapy  
  • 心理科 (shinrika) : Psychology
  • 循環器科 (junkankika)/循環器内科 (junkankinaika) : Cardiology. 
  • 呼吸器内科 (kokyūkinaika) : Pulmonology (aka the place to find respiratory doctors).  
  • 小児科 (shōnika) : Pediatrics. Take your children to this type of clinic for vaccines and to treat health problems.
  • 眼科 (ganka) : Ophthalmology (aka the place to find eye doctors).
  • 泌尿器科 (hitsunyōkika) : Urology.
  • 産婦人科 (sanfujinka) : Obstetrics and Gynaecology.
  • 皮膚科 (hifuka) : Dermatology.
  • 肛門外来 (kōmon gairai) : Proctology.
  • 脳神経内科 (noushinkeinaika) : Neurology
  • 救急診療部 (kyūkyū shinryō-bu) : The emergency department.
  • 外科 (geka) : Surgery. 
  • 歯科口腔外科 (shikakōkōgeka) : Oral Surgery.
  • 整形外科 (seikeigeka ) : Orthopaedic Surgery. 
  • 心臓血管外科 (shinzō kekkan geka) = Cardiovascular surgery.
  • 脳神経外科 (nōshinkei geka) : Neurosurgery.

If you are lucky enough to live in an area with medical translators available in your language and/or where there is a large hospital with foreign-language intake forms and English signs, then this article might not be very helpful. However, if you are in a situation like I was when I first came to Japan - with non-existent Japanese skills in an area where there is only Japanese healthcare available - then I hope you can find this post useful. Of course, nowadays you probably have a powerful translation tool and Japanese language dictionary right in your pocket in the form of a smartphone, so you are already starting off in a much better position than I was in that first time I went to a local clinic. 

Although this list is not meant to be an exhaustive list of all of the different kinds of medical departments you can find in Japan, please do let me know in the comments if you think I have left off an important or very common one. You can also let me know if I made any errors as well - my Japanese is much better than it was the first time I had to use the healthcare system here, but it is far from perfect!

Until next month: keep washing your hands, practise social distancing, and try not to spend too much time immersed in reading and thinking about the pandemic so that you can stay healthy and you don't need to make use of this list. Take care!

by: S.Suzuyama 

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