Primary Care

Doctors in Japan

Looking for a Japanese doctor (医者, isha)? Here’s everything you need to know about getting an appointment, referrals, paying for services, and more.

Japanese doctor

By Mari Krueger

Updated 18-3-2024

When you’re moving to Japan (日本, Nihon/Nippon), you’ll need to know about the healthcare system (医療制度, iryo seido). Fingers crossed you won’t need it, but forewarned is forearmed.

The process can be overwhelming, especially if you have children, don’t speak Japanese, or are dealing with an emergency. However, the country offers high-quality healthcare, and many Japanese doctors speak English.

Keep reading for more information on the following topics:

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Doctors in Japan

Japan’s universal healthcare system is one of the best in the world. There were 2.6 doctors per 1,000 people in Japan as of 2021, and most were available to anyone covered by national health insurance (国民健康保険, kokumin kenko hoken).

Doctors provide health examinations (診察, shinsatsu), recommend treatment (治療, chiryo) options, write prescriptions (処方箋, shoho sen), and refer patients (患者, kanja) for specialized care or surgery (手術, shujutsu). You can find doctors in public and private clinics and in hospitals (病院, byoin).

The bright, empty waiting room of a Japanese medical clinic or hospital, with flowers on the reception desk
Photo: Yoshiyoshi Hirokawa/Getty Images

Most clinics and hospitals are open for appointments (予約, yoyaku) and walk-in patients during business hours, around 9:00–18:00 or later on weekdays. Most close for weekends and public holidays, but some are open for appointments on Saturday mornings. Hospital emergency rooms (緊急治療室, kinkyu chiryo-shitsu) are available 24/7 but may turn away patients whose condition is not determined to be an emergency.

Who can access doctors in Japan?

Expats living in Japan must sign up for public healthcare (公的医療保険, koteki iryo hoken) and pay into an insurance policy (健康保険, kenko hoken) to access treatment. Otherwise, patients must pay for the entire cost themselves.

Many internationals choose to take out an additional policy for better access to English-speaking doctors. Remember that some expat doctors may not accept Japanese public health insurance. Check with your employer for more information about your insurance policy, or contact your provider directly.

Finding a Japanese doctor

Once registered with the Japanese healthcare system, it’s time to find the right doctor for you and your family. Doctors must complete a six-year university program, complete a residency, and pass the National Medical Practitioners Examination to obtain a medical license.

Finding a medical professional as an expat can be tricky as the Japanese healthcare system might be different from what you expect. For example, Japan does not have general practitioners. Instead, select the appropriate type of local outpatient clinic for treatment. In most communities, you will be able to find:

  • Internal medicine (内科, naika)
  • Japanese traditional medicine (漢方, kampo)
  • Dermatology (皮膚科, hifuka)
  • Ophthalmology (眼科, ganka)
  • Dentists (歯科, shika)

In addition to the type of treatment needed, you’ll want to consider proximity to your home, services available, and languages spoken at the clinic. Ask a neighbor for a recommendation, or check your local listings.

A doctor in scrubs sits looking at his desktop computer screen, deep in thought with his hand on his chin
Photo: RunPhoto/Getty Images

The Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare of Japan (MHLW – 厚生労働省, Kosei Rodo Sho) lists clinics and hospitals by prefecture along with information about what services and languages they offer, plus hours of operation.

Finding English-speaking doctors in Japan

Not confident about your level of Japanese (日本語, Nihon go)? You can contact your clinic or hospital to see if they have an English-speaking staff. Otherwise, you may need to bring a translator. Be sure to bring your resident card (在留カード, zairyu kado) and insurance information to the office.

Generally speaking, you will have many more options for English-speaking doctors and specialists in the Tokyo (東京) area. The following resources may help in this situation:

  • The Japan National Tourism Organization (日本政府観光局, Nihon Seifu Kanko-Kyoku) offers medical institution searches by prefecture in its helpful guide for visitors feeling ill
  • The International Society of Travel Medicine has a free online directory of clinics that offer vaccinations and other services geared toward travelers and expats
  • You can easily find hospitals and clinics accredited by the Joint Commission International (合同機構国際認定, Godo-Kiko Kokusai Nintei) in Japan

Registering with a Japanese doctor

It is optional to register with a doctor in Japan. However, you can register with a clinic. Once you’ve confirmed a clinic accepts your insurance, you’ll need to bring your Japanese health insurance card (保険証, hoken sho) when arriving for your first appointment. You’ll receive a clinic card (診察券, shinsatsu ken) to save time checking in for future visits.

Making an appointment with doctors in Japan

Japanese doctors are generally accessible. People with an appointment can expect a very short wait, and walk-in patients can expect to be seen within a few hours. In the event of an emergency (緊急, kinkyu) call 119 for an ambulance (救急車, kyukyu sha) or go directly to a hospital emergency room.

Online telehealth is growing in Japan, especially in large hospitals and private practices. Doctors are most likely to offer telehealth services paired with home visits as part of a greater treatment plan for chronic conditions. It can also be a good option for treating minor symptoms or refilling prescriptions.
Sometimes it’s possible to have a home visit from a doctor. Not all facilities offer this service, so check with your clinic or hospital.

What to expect when visiting a Japanese doctor

Once you’re at the clinic, you’ll need to check in at the reception counter (受付窓口, uketsuke madoguchi). The first check-in will take longer since the clinic or hospital will need to complete a medical intake form (問診票, monshin hyo). You’ll answer questions about your medical history (病歴, byoreki), allergies (アレルギー, arerugi), current symptoms (症状, shojo), and any medications (薬, kusuri) you’re taking.

If possible, you may want to fill out a standard medical interview and bring it with you to your appointment. You will also need to bring your health insurance card and passport (パスポート, pasupoto) or resident card.

An older father and his teenage daughter stand at a hospital reception filling out forms and speaking with a nurse
Photo: Trevor Williams/Getty Images

The receptionist may give you a call number, so you will need to watch the digital board in the waiting room (待合室, machiai shitsu) until it’s your turn.

When talking to the doctor, use the honorific title sensei (先生). Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and recommend follow-up appointments to check your progress or an appointment with a specialist (専門医, senmon i). The doctor may also prescribe medication.

Pay for the appointment before leaving the clinic. The billing reception counter will be in or near the waiting room. Some hospitals accept credit cards, but most clinics require payment in cash (現金, genkin). In this case, there should be an ATM.

If you’re not used to Japanese healthcare, your time with the doctor may seem very short. Instead, think of it as one visit split into multiple visits where patients return to the same clinic several times to measure the treatment’s progress. Further appointments treating the same issue are billed much lower than the initial appointment.

Medical specialists in Japan

Japan’s healthcare system includes many different types of specialized medical services, most of which are covered under national insurance.

Finding a specialist in Japan

When a Japanese doctor refers a patient to a specialist for additional treatment, the appointment usually takes place within 60 days. Alternatively, you can arrive at a specialist without a referral or appointment if you are prepared to wait several hours.

Mid adult father takes his young daughter to consult with a mature female doctor in a medical examination room at a doctor's office
Photo: Trevor Williams/Getty Images

Specialists sometimes require a medical recommendation letter (紹介状, shokai jo) from a doctor before booking an appointment. You will also pay a reduced fee for specialist visits if you have a doctor’s referral first.

Visiting a specialist in Japan

Your clinic or doctor should be able to help you make your appointment with a specialist. They may order additional tests and arrange a treatment plan. Just like doctors, you’ll need to pay your copay or the entire amount for the appointment at the end of the visit.

After your appointment, the specialist may refer you back to the original clinic for follow-up care. In some cases, telehealth appointments might be possible instead of a subsequent in-person visit.

Cost of Japanese doctors and specialists

Medical costs (医療費, iryo hi) are part of the cost of living in Japan. Fortunately, patient fees are set according to a national schedule which is strictly monitored by the MHLW.

Japanese insurance will cover 70% of costs for most policyholders, and even more for young adults and pensioners (高齢者, koreisha). Japanese public health insurance also has caps on how much a patient can be charged for medical services in a month or year. Remember, payment is due at the time of the visit. While some larger hospitals accept credit cards, be prepared to pay in cash.

Health insurance in Japan

Japan has universal healthcare available to Japanese citizens as well as residents of any nationality (国籍, kokuseki) who have been in the country for more than 90 days. It’s paid for through taxes (税金, zeikin), public health insurance, private health insurance (民間医療保険, minkan iryo hoken), and individual payments for appointments and services.

A group of relaxed businesswomen have a casual discussion in the office in front of windows
Photo: Masafumi Nakanishi/Getty Images

If you’re moving to Japan for work, check with your employer for enrollment options. Otherwise, you will need to enroll in public health insurance.

The public health insurance system pays for 70% of costs for most individuals, leaving 30% to be paid by the patient or their private policy. Children under 6 have 80% of the fees covered by insurance, and older adults have up to 90% of the costs covered.

Specialist treatment is covered by insurance when recommended by a doctor. Everyone is required to have health insurance in Japan. If you do not have health insurance, you must pay the entire cost of the visit to the doctor or hospital before leaving the clinic or hospital.

Some of the major private health insurance providers in Japan include:

Japanese private doctors and specialists

About 85% of hospitals in Japan are private nonprofits closely regulated by the government (政府, seifu), with the remaining 15% being public hospitals.

Many foreign doctors have private for-profit practices in Japan offering the type of clinical experience you might expect in your home country. Private clinics may or may not accept Japanese public health insurance, so you must check with your insurance plan. Pay all medical costs upfront and submit paperwork with your insurance company for reimbursement.

Private doctors (開業医, kaigyo i) can offer various services and specializations, from general internal medicine and vaccinations (予防接種, yobo sesshu) to trauma care and medical repatriation. Some clinics provide home visits and telehealth consultations over the internet.

Costs will be more expensive than nonprofit hospital care. Initially, appointments start at a few thousand yen for online consultations and up to tens of thousands for specialty care.

Routine private healthcare not covered by Japanese public insurance includes optometry services for those over age 9, a variety of cosmetic and elective surgeries (美容整形手術, biyo-seikei shujutsu), some vaccines, and some types of mental healthcare (メンタルヘルスケア, mentaru herusukea).

Doctor prescriptions in Japan

Japanese doctors write Class 1 prescriptions which can be filled in clinic or hospital pharmacies (薬局, yakkyoku). Getting a refill requires revisiting the doctor. Japanese public health insurance covers medications at the same rate as other healthcare services. However, it does not include all types of contraception (避妊, hinin).

A female pharmacist smiles while helping her customer with a prescription
Photo: kumikomini/Getty Images

You can also buy some Class 2 medications from a pharmacy without a prescription, like cold medicine (風邪薬, kaze gusuri). Mild Class 3 painkillers, ointments, and other treatments are available at any drugstore and many convenience stores.

Some medications available in other places are illegal in Japan, so check your prescriptions before arriving. Amphetamines, for example, which are the active ingredient in medicines for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) (注意欠如・多動症, chui-ketsujo tado-sho), are illegal. Drugs not readily available but not banned may be mailed after submitting the appropriate import forms.

Medical tests in Japan

Japanese medicine puts a high emphasis on preventative health treatments. Students even have a checkup each year at school to measure their height and weight.

Japanese employees get an annual health check called an ippan kenko-shindan (一般健康診断) or ippan kenshin (一般健診). This routinely includes a chest X-ray and blood, urine, and stool samples. Doctors look for early signs of diabetes (糖尿病, tonyo byo), liver disease, anemia, and cancer (がん, gan) so they can begin treatment as soon as possible.

Emergency doctors in Japan

Care is available 24/7 in hospital emergency rooms. Insurance is not required for urgent treatment, but expect a bill for the entire cost after the visit.

It’s important to note that hospitals can turn away patients whose condition is not considered an emergency. Japan’s emergency line is 119 to call an ambulance or other services.

Alternatively, you can call the Japan National Tourism Organization’s emergency helpline for assistance during an illness, disaster, or other emergency 24/7 at 050-3816-2787.

Making a complaint about Japanese doctors or specialists

If you have a complaint about your experience with a Japanese doctor, you can reach out to the clinic or hospital directly. In case they cannot resolve the issue to your satisfaction, you may contact the Japan Medical Association (日本医師会, Nihon Ishi-kai) or consult an expert through the Tokyo Intercultural Portal Site (TIPS).

Useful Japanese medical phrases

  • I need an ambulance – 救急車を呼んでください, kyukyusha o yonde kudasai
  • I need a doctor – 病院に行きたいです, byoin ni ikitai desu
  • Heart attack – 心臓発作, shinzo hossa
  • Emergency – 緊急, kinkyu
  • I have a fever – 熱があります, netsu ga arimasu

Useful resources