Getting to Know the Healthcare System in Japan

What's the difference between hospitals and clinics-and how do you choose where to go?

Most foreigners who visit Japan are impressed with Japan’s health care system. Some even find that the healthcare system is better than their own home countries, because oftentimes, they find it cheaper—as long as you are under Japan’s health insurance. They also claim that although it is cheaper, they find it difficult to navigate, especially because of the lack of language support for non-Japanese speakers. But as the number of foreign residents is increasing, Japan has been inviting medical institutions to be accredited and provide medical services for foreigners.

Given these facts, when we are feeling under the weather and need medical assistance, apparently, in Japan, it is best to go visit a clinic first. But why not just go straight to the hospital?

Basically, if it is not an emergency, you can just go to a nearby clinic and receive primary care. Not only does it save you time but also money. In Japan and many other hospitals around the world, they offer a vast variety of medical treatments for both in-patient and out-patient services. This also means you might have to wait a bit longer to be treated. It is also common for Japanese hospitals to charge a fee that ranges from ¥2,000 to ¥5,000 if you want to be checked without a letter of referral in hand, which is usually issued by a clinic.

Some clinics may have several doctors with different specializations, while some clinics may only specialize in one. After some time of living in Japan, a lesson we’ve learned is that clinics don’t always have a general practitioner. That being said, it is best to know about the different kinds of clinics, so you will know where to go in case of illness.

More often than not, clinics do not require for you to make an appointment but it is always best to check before you visit just to be sure. Dentists generally require you to make an appointment. While some allow you to make an appointment through their websites, it is still a common practice to make it via phone call. The challenge for us foreigners is whether we can or cannot explain our situation. In these cases, it is always nice to have a good friend or
senpai who can speak for us in case the person on the other line is not fluent in English.

People usually only go to hospitals once they are referred by their doctor if they find the need for them to be extensively checked. Hospitals, as we know it, are well-equipped. While for the referral letters, they are handed to a patient in a sealed envelope addressed to either the appointed specialist or to the concerned department. With this in hand, it is a must to emphasize the need to call and make that appointment because not all doctors are always available every day.


Whether you go to a clinic or a hospital, you will only be charged 30% of the total fee because most of the costs are covered by the Japanese Health Insurance. So before you leave your house, make sure you have your health insurance card and cash with you. Facilities that accept credit cards are still limited.

 (14 May 2019)

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