Caution is required when bringing any kind of medicine into Japan. Many products that are commonly available over the counter elsewhere in the world are not approved for sale in Japan (examples include medicines that contain Pseudoephedrine, such as Actifed, Sudafed, and Vicks inhalers) and their import is strictly prohibited.
In the case of prescription medicines, provided that the medicine in question is not one that is prohibited or strictly controlled, you are allowed to bring up to one month’s supply of medicine with you. It should be noted that the import of some medicines (some narcotics and stimulants, or medicines that contain precursors exceeding a certain concentration level) is totally prohibited and you will not be given permission to bring them into Japan under any circumstances.
If you wish to import a larger quantity of prescription medicines, it is necessary to apply in advance of travel to the Inspection and Guidance Section of the Bureau of Health and Welfare under the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare for an import permit called a Yakkan Shoumei. With this permit, you will be able to bring as much medicine as you would need to last you the time you are planning to be in Japan.
Please be aware that breaches of the rules relating to importing medicines are taken very seriously, and you risk arrest and prosecution if you are found to have imported medicines that are illegal in Japan or even legal medicines in quantities that you do not have prior approval for.
Some recent examples:
American Teacher Arrested Adderall Medication in Japan (February 2015)
Toyota Executive Is Arrested in Japan (June 2015)
The best way to know if the medicine which you would like to bring to Japan is legal, or to find out if it or a suitable alternative is available in Japan, would be to contact a hospital with English-speaking staff directly for confirmation.
If you do indeed need to obtain a Yakkan Shoumei permit you will need to apply by post at least three weeks in advance of travel. However, it is much easier and faster to apply by e-mail (you can apply in English), although we still advise applying at least two weeks ahead of your flight.
To do so follow the instructions below:
1. Send a list of medications to the Pharmaceutical Inspector of the Inspection and Guidance Section of the Regional Bureau of Health and Welfare corresponding to your arrival location to check that they are legal in Japan.
2. Once you have cleared that the medications are legal, the Pharmaceutical Inspector should send through the application in their reply e-mail. Please submit the application form provided by replying.
Please keep in mind the following points:
3. After that, you will receive your Yakkan Shomei by e-mail. Please make sure you have your Yakkan Shomei with you at the arrival airport, and we strongly recommend carrying all related prescriptions from your home country with you as well.
Kanto-Shin’etsu Regional Bureau of Health and Welfare
TEL: +81-48-740-0800 (048-740-0800 from within Japan)
Please see the following websites for more detailed information:
Photo: guvo59 [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons