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Having spent the last few days in bed with a high temperature due to a cold, I figured now would be a good time to talk about getting sick in Japan. The one topic I want to talk about in particular is medicine.

I have found cold medicine in Japan to be almost useless. Even when it is “prescription medicine”. The first time I ever had to go to the doctors in Japan was as a study abroad student. About two months after starting school I ended up with a pretty sever cold. Not something I would usually see a doctor for, but my throat hurt so bad I thought it was something else. After examining me the doctor prescribed a number of medications for me. I found the pharmacy, picked up my medications, and downed them as quickly as I could. Even though I had to take two types of pills and a packet of powder, there was almost no improvement in my condition. My throat still hurt and I felt miserable.

To look on the bright side, I ended up learning a few medical related Japanese words while I went through the process. I can even remember my Japanese teacher skipping ahead to the chapter on medical and body parts as the cold season started coming around (which turned out to be quite helpful). Still, not a very fun experience.

While Japan has a pretty good, and rather inexpensive health care system, it is still different from what you may be used to. Many of the common off the shelf medications you may be used to are not available here in Japan. Which is a bummer since I have found that “off the shelf” cold medicines in the US are much more effective than prescription cold medicine here in Japan.

So does this mean that if you catch a cold in Japan you just have to wait it out?

Nope, just that you need to plan ahead. Each time that I visit the US I pick up a few boxes of my favorite medicines and bring them back with me. This is a pretty common practice with a lot of the foreigners here in Japan. Do make sure to check with immigration regulations before bringing any medications into the Japan though.

If you will be in Japan for an extended amount of time you should also check on any prescription medicines you may need to take. A quick call to your nearest Japanese consulate to make sure you can either fill the prescription in Japan or bring enough for the time you are there should take care of that problem.

This may not be something you immediately think about when planning your trip to Japan, but making this preparation can make a big difference should you get sick while you are here.