I hate being sick. I hate being sick away from home even more!
When I travel anywhere – within the US or to Japan – and especially when I fly, I usually get sick. Being in a small space with other people and sharing recycled air allows those nasty little bugs to invade.
At least when you are home and you get sick, you are in familiar surroundings and the medicine or foods you need to feel better are in easy reach. In a foreign country, you often have to figure out what medicine to buy in a language you haven’t entirely mastered, and then if you need to see a doctor that’s a whole other problem.
Getting Sick in Japan
So what happens when you get sick in Japan? I’ve gotten sick enough times that I’ve learned to be prepared for the eventuality.
If you are on a student visa or any visa that gives you access to healthcare, go to the doctor (isha 医者)! They have national healthcare and it will cost you nothing to very little to go to the doctor. As a student, I went when I got injured playing soccer. I had an X-ray and got some painkiller (I had a collision with another player, but it ended in just some bruises) and I walked out of the hospital without a bill.
If you’re a visitor, you don’t have access to the national healthcare system, but I got an IV drip (this is pretty common in Japan for flu and cold treatment) and some medicine the last time I was sick in Japan, and got out for under ￥5000 (~$45). Some copays in the US can be more than that. You can also go to a pharmacy or convenience store, and explain your symptoms to the clerk (there are free Japanese-English dictionary apps available!). Ingredients are often listed in katakana and if you know the ingredients you are looking for, you can make educated guesses.
My advice? Figure out what kinds of (minor) illnesses you are most likely to get when you travel (if you get sick enough times, you’ll know). Bring medicine with you, just in case. I’d recommend bringing over-the-counter cold medicine if you’re going during the winter, or pain killer if you’re prone to headaches when you travel. If there’s anything you are prone to (like.. gasp.. diarrhea), pack medicine that you know works so you don’t have to find something when you’ve already gotten sick.
If you have a chronic condition that requires medication, of course you should be sure to bring it with you. But if it’s a narcotic or prescription strength, it’s a good idea to check and make sure that you can enter the country with it. Japan is a bit stricter on drugs than the US, and you don’t want to be stopped because of drugs that are legally in your possession. And don’t bring illegal drugs to Japan, because that’s just asking for trouble!
I’m Getting Better…
My Japanese husband and I have different ideas about comfort food and home remedies when it comes to being sick, and so when I bring back a cold I picked up on a business trip, we end up with an interesting meal plan.
Sometimes we eat ozosui お雑炊 – a soup with rice that’s almost like a porridge – and sometimes we eat chicken noodle soup. The most important thing about comfort food is that it soothes the symptoms of being sick, and often it isn’t the food itself but the memory of eating it as a child that makes you feel better. When both of us are really really sick we obtain calories from store-bought bottled smoothies (US) or from jelly drinks (Japan).
Usually Japanese people think that American medicine is too strong, while Americans think that Japanese medicine is not strong enough. My husband and I each have a different combination of American and Japanese medicine that we prefer for different symptoms, and thanks to his parents we have an abundant supply of both!
Sometimes I wonder if the perception of a certain medicine not being effective enough can affect the way that the medicine actually works – like a placebo effect. If you always used the same medicine to cure your cold, and you are positive that any other medicine won’t work, is it because it really doesn’t work, or because you don’t think it will work?
What is your favorite food when you are under the weather? What do you do to prevent illness? Have you ever had any problems with medicine in a foreign country? Let me know in the comments!