If you live in Japan long enough, sooner or later, you will need to see a medical professional for either an ailment, dental cleaning, eye exam, or a checkup. Japan has one of the best healthcare systems in the world in terms of accessibility and affordability. Most hospitals and clinics are non-profit or doctor-owned and operated, and universal health insurance keeps costs in check. With the country consistently ranked one of the healthiest, longest-living in the world, there are sometimes clinics on every corner. But sometimes the hardest part about going to the doctor’s office is figuring out which one to go to— and it’s not just a language barrier issue in many cases.
The first thing you need to do is figure out just what type of doctor you need. In most cases, you’ll start with a general practitioner. These are found in almost every neighborhood in large cities, especially around train stations. Start at these offices when you need medicine to treat a cold, or talk about common problems you encounter. But you may be referred to a specialist for further opinion from there.
The first stop many make when getting sick is to a general practitioner or local clinic. The type of condition they diagnose will determine where you should go next, as most physicians have a sub-specialty. Alternatively, you may be able to go directly to the specialist you require, for example:
If you need more specific or longer-term care for a condition, then one of the above doctors will usually refer you to a specialist in a hospital. Large hospitals usually have trauma centers in the event of emergency or transport by ambulance.
In Japan, for-profit organizations are not permitted to run hospitals and clinics, hence all Japanese hospitals are non-profit organizations. All administrative decisions are made by physicians and operating committees made up of medical professionals. In addition, all small clinics must be owned and operated by physicians. The costs of most procedures and medicines are determined by a national committee that meets once every 2 years. In simple terms, this means the cost for things like teeth cleaning, eye exams, and doctor visits are the same nationwide, from doctor to doctor. There is a high priority on preventive care so costs are usually cheaper for preemptive treatments rather than their reactionary counterparts. In other words, don’t wait for a toothache to happen when you feel that first twinge of pain.
National Cancer Institute / Public domain