10 things to know about medication in Japan

10 things to know about medication in Japan

A headache or a cold can spoil your day! Whether you are traveling in Japan or whether you live there, it is useful to know how and where to get medicines.

With Expatilt, prepare your trip and stay in shape to make the most of your visit in Japan.

Here are 10 tips to understand the use of drugs and pharmacies in the land of the rising sun!


1. Where I can buy medicines in Japan?

In Japan, drugs can be purchased in several types of stores:

- Big pharmacy chainsMatsumoto Kiyoshi (マツモトキヨシ) is the most popular one in Japan for example. Their shops are present on the whole island and provide not only the original brands of drugs and medicines but also many Japanese and international cosmetics and beauty products. Others chains in Japan are: SunDrug, Sugi Drug Group and Tsuruha Drug. 

- Hospitals’ pharmacies: most of hospitals have an in-house pharmacy so that you can collect the drugs, and pay for it with the consultation at the same time. 

- Others pharmacies: unlike in Europe or in the United States of America, there are no specific signs or symbol to distinguish pharmacies in Japan. Each pharmacy is identified by a different symbol and logo depending on the pharmaceutical laboratory they are associated to. Thus, some have a rabbit (symbol of the pharmaceutical company SS Seyaku) and others a frog, an elephant or a hippopotamus.

You can also find some pharmaceutical products in supermarkets and konbinis, but this does not concern products against fever.

In addition, some international pharmacies like the American Pharmacy of Tokyo sell Western products, but the prices are more expensive.


2. Differences between pharmacies and drugstores?

In Japanese, the word for pharmacy is "Yakkyoku". Generally, they are open from 9:00 am to 06:00 pm on weekdays and Saturdays, and are closed on Sundays. While drugstores are usually open 7days a week and sometimes 24/24. 

You will find non-prescription-drugs in drugstores and pharmacies but you can only buy your prescription-drugs in pharmacies and in drugstores which have a pharmacy counter.  

In contrast with pharmacies which have no merchandise on the shelves, drugstores have a large variety of products (medicine but also beauty products for example) on sale in the store.


3. Where I can find an English-speaking pharmacy in Tokyo?

Here is a short (non exhaustive) list of English-speaking pharmacies. 

  • American pharmacy 

Address: Hibiya Park Building, 1-8-1 Yurakacho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo.

Phone number: 03-3271-4034

  • Hibya pharmacy

Address: Mitsui Building, 1-1-2 Yuraku-cho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo.

Phone number: 03-3501-6377

  • National Azabu Supermarket’s pharmacy 

Address: 4-5-2 Minami-azabu, Minato-Ku, Tokyo

Website: http://www.national-azabu.com/e_index2.php

  • Yakuju pharmacy

Address: Roppongi Izumi Garden, 1-6-1 Roppongi, Minato-Ku, Tokyo

Website: http://izumigarden.jp/en/shop/4-e.html

Phone number: 03-3568-3370

  • Tokyo Medical and Surgical Clinic pharmacy

Address: 32 Shiba Koen Building, 3-4-30 Shiba-Koen, Minato-ku, Tokyo

Website: http://www.tmsc.jp/doctors.htm#pha

Phone number: 03-3434-581


4. Can I use a foreign prescription in Japan?

It’s not possible to use an overseas prescription to buy medicines in Japan. Japanese pharmacies do not allow it. You need to obtain a Japanese prescription from a Japanese licensed doctor which can be obtained after a consultation.

For the consultation, bring your foreign prescription or the actual medicine with you and the doctor will study and prescribe the same or a similar medication depending on the Japanese drugs regulations.


5. Can I bring my medication with me when I come to Japan?

Yes, it’s possible to import unauthorized medications prescribed by your doctor in Japan. However, this authorization does not include narcotics and is only valid for a period of one month.

The importation of narcotic substances such as morphine, codeine, oxycodone requires a prior authorization and a certificate from your doctor.

For more information, you can contact the "Ministry of health and wellfare": "Inspection and guidance division": "Pharmaceutical and medical safety office" at 03 5353 1111, or visit their  website at http://www.mhlw.go.jp/english/index.html


6. How can I read a Japanese prescription?

The Japanese name for prescription is 処方せん しょほうせん [shohousen].

In Japan, doctors do not take time to talk about drugs with the patients. They write a detailed prescriptions on a computer, which will be explained by the pharmacist when the patient purchase the medicines.

These prescriptions include the name of the patient, the date of emission and the dosage of each drug (when to take it, how, the quantity, what the drug contains, etc.). There is also a picture of the drug on the prescription so that the patient does not confuse it with other drugs.


7. Presentation of drugs and aftercare

The pharmacists will deliver your medication in separate small bags on which there will be:

  • A picture of the drug (optional)
  • The name of the drug
  • The Dosage
  • The total number of tablets given

In Japan, prescription drugs are not sold in boxes. They give you the exact amount of drugs you need to heal yourself! For example, if you need 2 tablets a day for 3 days of one drug, you will get 6 tablets and nothing more. This limits the wastage of drugs and limits self-medication.

Furthermore, pharmacists put your medication record stickers in a booklet which you should keep for your future consultations. It is handy to let your doctor and pharmacist know what medications you have been prescribed in the past. Thus, no error in treatment can be made!


8. How much does it cost? 

If you have a Japanese Health Insurance, it covers 70% of the total prescription-drugs cost. Therefore, you are required to pay 30% at the pharmacy counter.

Non-prescription drugs are not covered so you have to pay the total cost.


9. Are there any differences between Japanese and western drugs?

Japanese medicines are often micro-dosed compared to Western medicines. Some will say that it is because of the morphology of the Japanese who are smaller than the Westerners, others that it is because of the pharmaceutical lobbis with different prescribing habits between Western and Japanese doctors or for other reasons. But in any case, Japanese doctors know this phenomenon and will regulate the dosage according to the patients. Trust your doctor and your prescription!


10. Which non-prescription drugs can I buy?

Here are some over-the-counter medications which are very common in Japan and which are very useful for your everyday life.

Please be careful and read the medication leaflet before using any drug listed below. We only list the drugs without providing information on their composition or effect.

  • Medication for fever and headache: 鎮痛剤 [Chintsu zai]

  • Aspirin: バファリン [Bufferin A]

  • Paracetamol: タイレノ ー ル [Tylenol]

  • Ibuprofen: イブ [Eve] or リングル [Ringl]

  • Megusuri: eye drops

  • Medicines for stomach pain: 胃腸薬 [Ichô yaku], ガスタ ー 10 [Gasta 10], 大正漢方 [Taishô Kampo], Geridome, ストッパ [Stoppa] or ビオフェルミン [Biofemin]

  • Medicines for common cold and flu: パブロン [Paburon], 葛根湯 [Kakkontô]

  • Drugs against insect bites: かゆみどめ [Kayumidome], ムヒアルファ [Muhi Alfa] and ムヒパッチ [Muhi Pacchi] for children

Be careful, even if they are sold without a prescription, these drugs remain active. If you have a health problem or if the symptoms persist, you should consult a doctor or go to an emergency service.


Bonus: 11. Where can I find english-speaking doctors?

You will find on the button below the list of multilingual doctors on Expatilt.


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