I previously did a post on being sick in Japan but that covered the differences between being sick in the West vs Japan, and phrases to use to get help if you know Japanese. This post is about when you’re in Japan on HOLIDAY and you get sick, you don’t know the language or what to do!
This happened to me on my most recent trip. A combination of jet-lag, only a few hours sleep in 48hours and unhealthy food almost took me out with a cold. Luckily I was able to get amazing Japanese cold medicine and it fixed it right up. (I had some comments from American friends that Japanese cold medicine doesn’t work for them. I suggest trying it anyway if you’re on holiday and are stuck).
This guide focuses mostly on if you have a cold and want to keep sightseeing rather than lying in bed for 3 days and missing Japan.
Pharmacies are recognizable by the giant red 薬 signs.
Get help from local staff
If you are in a hotel there will probably be at least one staff member who speaks English. Go to the front desk and see if the will help you by going to a nearby pharmacy and acting as translator.
They might not be allowed to leave work but Japanese guest services are amazing and they will do all they can to help. (This is easier in a big city, if you’re in a small town there probably won’t be any English speakers around).
Go to a pharmacy (not the hospital)
If you ask a Japanese person for help they might want to take you to hospital. When you have a cold then it’s not worth going and wasting your holiday hours sitting around a hospital where you can’t speak the language and you’ll have to spend a lot of your spending money on hospital bills. (If it’s a serious illness that’s not a cold then go to the hospital!)
Local drug stores (notable by the large bottles of soap they sell) will have someone there who can recommend the best medicine based on your symptoms. Have a friend or hospital translate for you, or you can try and get by with good old hand gestures.
Feed a cold, starve a fever
This is a saying my mum passed down to me and I always swear by it. If you have a cold in Japan and you want to keep sightseeing and not be stuck indoors all day then you need to keep yourself hydrated and fed.
The best things to do this in Japan is to keep snacks like Calorie Mates (which have added vitamins) and drink drinks like Pocari Sweat (which re-ionises your body). Some people say drink CC Lemon which has added vitamin C but I found Pocari works SO much better and CC Lemon has a lot of sugar in it which you should avoid. Try and snack every hour, drink whenever you eat, and make sure you have your regular meals ontop.
Obviously if you have something worse than a cold it’s good to use common sense. If it’s food poisoning then eat little bit of dry food (Calorie Mate is good for this again) and keep hydrated (Pocari Sweat). If it’s something worse (i.e stomach pains) then get to the hospital by asking the hotel staff for help (even if they can’t speak English they’ll understand the situation and know what to do).
If you can’t get hold of someone who speaks English. I’ve added the Japanese underneath so if you’re in a bind you can print them off or show them on your phone (you might not be able to get wi-fi in Japan so save it to the phone itself just in case).
Where is the pharmacy? = yakyoku wa doko desu ka? 薬局はどこですか？
I can’t speak Japanese. = nihongo ga dekimasen. 日本語ができません。
Can you speak English? = eigo ga dekimasu ka? 英語ができますか？
I want to buy medicine. = kusuri wo kaitai desu. 薬を買いたいです。
I have a cold = kaze desu. 風邪です。
My head hurts = atama ga itai desu. 頭が痛いです。
My muscles hurt = kinkotsu ga itai desu. 筋骨が痛いです。
I have a soar throat = nodo ga itai desu. のどが痛いです。
My glands are swollen = rin ga mukunde-imasu. リンがむくんでいます。