F.A.Q. – For Foreigners Surviving in Japan

April 7, 2008 at 3:22 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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On the blogstats page of my original blog about Japan, I was privy to the search engine key terms that navigate people to my page, and I noticed a lot of common themes. I have experienced innumerable frustrations in Japan, and when I see people looking on the internet for help with similar problems, I wish there was more concrete assistance for them out there. So here it is. I hope that if you need this information, you are finding it here. Please do note that I am not an authority on anything, and am offering you what I can from my own experience. If you have questions, please feel free to post them and I’ll answer the best that I can.

Yeast Infections in Japan:
*There is no over-the-counter medication for yeast infections in Japan. If you are planning to move here and are prone to them, I suggest you bring along a supply. You may want to bring along some probiotic supplements, too, if you imagine you might be taking antibiotics during your time here.
*If you are already here, find a women’s clinic. They are often called “Ladies” clinics. In a sizable city, you should be able to find one easily with a little help. If you have a yeast infection, they will test you on the spot and give you your first treatment. However, they will likely ask you to come back either every day for a week, or again in another week. If that is an inconvenience for you, ask if you can take the rest of the suppositories home to treat yourself. In my experience, they will give you a suppository for the internal irritation and a cream for the external irritation.
*Last resort: if for some reason the above options aren’t available to you, I’d suggest yogurt. Find a brand with ABSOLUTELY NO SUGAR (this can be found in just about any grocery store, and you’d be able to double check by tasting the difference if you tested it beforehand). Then make your own suppositories. Suggestions: fill a tampon applicator with yogurt and insert it, removing the applicator afterward; coat a (non-applicator) tampon with yogurt and insert it; freeze tiny yogurt popsicles and insert. After freezing it, and removed ALL the wrapping very carefully, round any sharp edges with a warm hand and insert it.
*In Japanese “shinkinsei chitsuen” 真菌性膣炎; Candidiasis is “kanjita” カンジタ

Bladder Infections, Cystitis, Urinary Tract Infections, UTIs in Japan:
*If you are coming to Japan and have had these before, I’d recommend bringing some antibiotics and Uristat bladder pain reliever with you.
I ran into a pretty awful medical situation because of this affliction. Before going to Japan, I got UTIs a few times a year and would need a course of antibiotics to treat them. I’d seen a doctor and typically took a 100mg of macrodantin antibiotic when I felt a UTI coming on. But sometimes I’d still get them anyway, so before I left the U.S., I got a doctor to prescribe me a few courses of ciprofloxacin antibiotics so I could treat myself if I had any trouble in Japan.
*I used up all those antibiotics in my first year, and had to see a doctor. The procedure was similar to the U.S., a urine sample and a prescription of antibiotics, pain reliever, and Chinese herbs. I found the Japanese antibiotics to be far too weak. I think because the Japanese are brought up on different doses of medicine, their dose wasn’t effective for me. Also bear in mind that the average Japanese woman is about 100-120 pounds, so the doctors’ maximum prescribing dose allowed is pretty low in comparison to the U.S.
*If you’re already in Japan, I have a few recommendations. Order ciprofloxacin, or whatever antibiotic you are experienced with, from an online pharmacy. A little sketchy, yes, but try to make smart choices about who you order from. Sometimes you have to have your own medicine here. Ciprofloxacin isn’t even available in Japan!
Also, find a good women’s clinic or hospital. If you can’t find a good English-speaking doctor, ask a Japanese speaker along. (I was humiliated when my boss accompanied me, but happy with my choice afterwards, and appreciative of her help.) Also, not all English-speaking doctors are GOOD doctors. I had one doctor who spoke English fluently tell me that my bladder pain was a psychological condition brought on by stress, that couldn’t be treated. Another doctor, a hospital urologist, told me that all he could do was give me Chinese herbs.
*In Japanese, bladder infection is “boko-en” 膀胱炎

When UTIs, Cystitis, don’t go away in Japan:
*I had a bladder pain syndrome, like interstitial cystitis, that was undoubtedly sparked by too many doctors misdiagnosing me and giving me all sorts of different medications. What distinguished it was a constant feeling of a bladder infection, but there would be no bacteria in my urine when I was tested; a feeling of heaviness in my bladder even after I’d gone to the bathroom; and a frequent desire to urinate. If this sounds like what you have, I’d suggest immediately finding a good doctor, and in the meantime do yoga, take warm baths, and eliminate ALL caffeine, tomatoes, and chocolate from your diet.
* I wish I had gone to a big city to see a doctor more quickly; that I had searched for a specialist and been more assertive of what my body was telling me vs. what the incorrect doctors were telling me. All that said, also know when to throw in the towel. In retrospect, I would have gone back to the U.S. earlier into the four months of pain. When I did see a urogynecologist there, I was correctly diagnosed within 30 minutes and prescribed enough medicine to get me through my next year in Japan.

Bringing Prescription Medicine to Japan:
Most medication is supposed to be limited to a two-month supply, and antihistamine medications are banned. That said, I have never been stopped by customs for this check, and know few people who have. To be safe, bring a copy of your prescription along with you to show customs. Take the gamble and bring more than a two-month supply (in retrospect, I wish I had) but know it could be confiscated. My parents in the U.S. mail over the rest of my medication to me, and I’ve never had any of that confiscated. I’m not condemning or condoning, but some people bag antihistamines to look like candy.

STD Testing in Japan:
There is limited availability for testing STDs or STIs in Japan. For example, HPV is typically not tested for. Herpes can be, but like in any country, sores better diagnose it than blood levels, because if you’ve ever been exposed to any type of mouth or genital herpes, it could make you falsely positive in your blood test. STDs are definitely as common in Japan as in any other modern industrial society, and I feel there is less acknowledgement of their prevalence and the need for sexual safety, which is scary. Be smart, protect yourself, and get tested. When you get tested, make sure you know which infections you are being tested for, and more importantly, which you aren’t.
*In Japanese, venereal disease or STD is “seibyo” 性病

Safe sex and Contraception in Japan:
*According to many Japanese people, “there are no gay people” in Japan, which is of course entirely untrue. I have also heard stated, “there is no AIDS in Japan.” I have heard that in gay bathhouses, there are no condoms available for the patrons because there is supposedly no risk.
*But don’t get too comfortable if you’re heterosexual, either. I have known a few people who left the country with Chlamydia, and a doctor I saw for my bladder pain syndrome told me he treats people for it here all the time. Monogamy doesn’t guarantee you safety. Find a good clinic that checks for all STDs, and get tested.
*Condoms in Japan are reputedly too small for most westerners, so if there’s a chance you might be active, please bring your own before you visit. Or find a pharmacy online that can mail them to you.
*Birth control in Japan is ridiculously behind the times. I know of a few places that sell modern European birth control, but for the most part, doctors will prescribe archaic medicines that have bad side effects. Find a good doctor here or get a prescription in your home country and have you medications regularly mailed to you.

A Note on Gynecology in Japan:
Women’s clinics abound in Japan, with their specialty being prenatal care and birthing. But if you’re a woman in Japan, and you are not having a baby, expect to find the gynecological medical practices and treatments, archaic, out-of-touch, and sadly overwhelmingly ignorant of the advances in gynecological health that exist in other affluent societies. Ask around your area and use the resources available to you. They won’t like it, but you need to advocate for your health and stand up for your needs. Don’t fall into the trap of wanting to be a well-behaved foreigner and just taking anything a doctor tells you as the truth. Search high and low until you find a doctor for yourself that you trust, feel comfortable with, and know has genuine concern for your health and well-being.
*Perfumed soaps are the norm here, but if you are looking for a nice, gentle soap, try Minon. ミノン It is available in most pharmacies and will help avoid irritations.

Clinic recommendation:
*If you are in the Fukuoka area, or can make the trip there, I highly recommend the International Clinic Toijinmachi. Information is available online.
http://internationalclinic.org/

Therapists, Counseling, Crisis Situations, Mental Health Help for English speakers in Japan:
*There are many international therapists available by area of Japan at imhpj.org. I know some counselors specialize in phone counseling, for the foreign community they are unable to meet face-to-face for therapy. http://www.imhpj.org/search/search_list.php

* TELL – Tokyo English Life Line (for any foreigners in Japan)
The Tokyo English Life Line is a nonprofit organization that was created in 1973. They offer free and anonymous phone counseling and information at 03-5774-0992 daily from 9:00am to 11:00pm.

*AJET PSG (for JET Programme only)
A listening and referral service, by JETs for JETs. The AJET PSG is available every night from 8pm until 7am. If you have had a bad day, need a doctor at 2am or just want to chat, give PSG a call on 0120-437-725. The AJET PSG is sponsored by BBApply.
Available every night across the holiday period.

*CLAIR JETLine: (for JET Programme only)
The JET Line is a phone line specifically for JETs, which is answered in English by Programme Coordinators who are available to answer inquiries and provide counseling. Conversations are confidential and callers can remain anonymous. The line operates during regular office hours, Monday to Friday from 09:00 to 18:00, (03)3591-5489.

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