Why Aren’t Japanese Doctors Telling The Truth?

It may come as a surprise to many of you that Japanese doctors generally don’t tell the truth. You are probably asking yourself, what does this author mean? It means exactly as how it sounds. Japanese doctors have a reputation of not being transparent in their actions and holding back pertinent information about your health.

For example, when the man who was revered as a divine being by his people, Emperor Hirohito, was showing deteriorating health and unexplained vomitting, his doctor knew what was causing it, but withheld the diagnostic from him.

“I don’t regret that I didn’t tell him about his cancer”
— Akira Takagi, Emperor’s Chief Doctor

According to a survey conducted in the mid-1990s, only one out of five cancer patients were honestly told of their diagnosis. [1]

A New York Times article cites a cancer diagnostic experience of 50-year-old Kazuku Makino. Her doctor diagnosed her with gallstones and suggested surgery to remove them. Makino, being a former nurse, sniffed out, for the lack of better but no truer words, the bullshit, and opted out of having unnecessary surgery.

Makino’s doctor suspected she had gallbladder cancer. The diagnostic proved to be correct. The cancer spread to her system and Makino died shortly after.

Her family sued the hospital for malpractice, but the courts rejected their claim. What resulted was a 1989 landmark case won by the medical industry in which doctors weren’t obligated to inform their cancer patients their true condition.

Some doctors argue that informing the patient of a terminally ailing disease would cause unhealthy psychological stress to the patient. As far as I know, no reputable journal or study has supported this claim.

Photo Source: pezheadsthemovie

Japanese doctors also have a reputation in prescribing medicine for every symptom or even non-symptom the patient may have. Oftentimes, the medicines are overprescribed. Some prescriptions aren’t even labeled for user readability, but with a hidden code for those only in the medical field can understand. So who knows what kind of medicine you are ingesting (or if you are unlucky, putting medicine into that backdoor of yours).

What is up with all the sketchiness? Doctor’s make a commission off of the medicine.

Why can Japanese doctors get away with this?

How Doctors Are Viewed

Photo Source: cathywagnerblog

To understand why Japanese doctors operate the way they do, one must understand how the Japanese view their relationship between themselves and their doctor.

In the United States, medical care is viewed as a service. The doctors and medical staff provide the skilled services, while the patients are the paying customers. The customers expect to get what they are paying for. The Japanese society on the other hand generally view doctors as their masters and the patients as the subordinates who are indebted to the master for his or her services.

As such, it is extremely rude and looked down upon to question their doctors, in addition to go around consulting other doctors for second opinions. The doctors tend to not go into a detailed explanation of the diagnostic and treatment being administered.

Again, to contrast this to U.S. doctors, the patient is informed of the specifics of the treatment, such as what and why it is being conducted, and the possible outcomes, good and bad, that may result. A big reason behind informing the patient is legal protection for the doctor and the medical practice.

Unfortunately, the Japanese tend to dislike causing drama. If any hint of malpractice was involved, it is very rare for them to take legal action against their doctors. And if no legal action is taken against the doctors, then they are left unchecked to do whatever they want.

What the Japanese expect from their doctors in regards to full disclosure has been changing the past few decades. In a survey conducted in the 1990s, 60% of the people surveyed would want to be told by their doctor if they were diagnosed with cancer. In a research that was conducted in 2004, 86% surveyed wanted full immediate disclosure. [2]

Not all doctors aren’t forthcoming with the results. Those who have studied or done work overseas, especially in Western countries, tend to bring back with them the practice of being forthright. How do your country’s doctors operate? Koichi has also written an similar article on Japanese doctors. Check it out!

[1] Japanese Journal of Clinical Oncology Volume 24, Issue 5, October 1994.

[2] Kai, I., Miyako, T., Miyata, H., Saito, T, Tachimori, H., (2004). Disclosure of cancer diagnosis and prognosis: a survey of the general public’s attitudes toward doctors and family holding discretionary powers. BMC Medical Ethics, 5:7. Retrieved June 17, 2004.

  • IndigoSelvedge

    She DIES?! You ruined it!!!!

  • Lathandien

     it looks like YOU’RE dealing with a trolololololol. no offense to you of course, you seem very educated in the subject.

  • Lathandien

    “Well on the internet some people are idiots”

    like you?

  • Mescale

    Yes that was my point, your reading comprehension truly equals the width of this reply.

  • Mescale

    Ok so here is why Doctors are useless.


    There are Doctors who don’t give a damn about people, they
    are there to draw a pay check, a very good one, they exist as is the point of
    this article and I’ve experienced plenty of them myself.


    But its not those that I’ve dealt with personally that made
    me feel this way, its the ones that were responsible for the death of my


    All of her life she had a lung disease, she would be short
    of breath, she went to the doctors and they treated her for all manner of lung
    conditions and it didn’t help. She would get the same treatments over and over
    again, because the doctors would change and they wouldn’t read her case file,
    and just assume some off the shelf drug would fix it, or maybe she didn’t take
    the medication last time, or she was making it all up.

    Her life ended when she eventually convinced Doctors that it
    wasn’t something they already knew about, and so they recommended an
    exploratory where they would take a sample of her lungs.


    Unfortunately she never woke up from the General Anaesthetic,
    her doctors were unwilling to do anything about this, and said it wasn’t worth
    putting her on a ventilator, we talked to multiple doctors who advised us
    because of her respiratory problems due to her smoking it wasn’t worth trying
    to help. The fact is she had never smoked in her life, they just assumed that
    was why she had this operation, and it wasn’t until we tried 4 doctors we found
    one who actually gave a damn and when he found out that she was not only not a
    smoker but was highly active, having taken her grandchildren on holiday the
    weekend before, and so was worth saving did they actually try and save her,
    only took a week.


    It was too late she never regained consciousness and we
    chose that we would remove her life support. She didn’t really want to die,
    though it took a while until her body gave up after they turned off the
    support, Doctors certainly gave up before her body did.


    So the question is this, if you have to shop around for
    Doctors, if you need to find one that you can trust, they are useless, can you
    trust this Doctor who says your tingling in your brain is nothing? Can you
    trust them when they say there is nothing they can do, when you’ve had
    experiences with Doctors before don’t even read up on case history, before
    making decisions to prescribe drugs, or leave someone to die? Does it matter if
    there are good doctors out there who care who work hard when there are those
    who don’t?


    Simply put once someone can’t trust Doctors they become
    useless, and its not because I am stupid or don’t know what cancer is or how it


    Its because medicine is about trust and I personally don’t
    have a shred of trust left for Doctors. So how useful are they? Not at all.

    I guess what really hurts is that she was really unsure
    about taking the operation, and me and my Sister visited her in hospital, we
    reassured her and said it would be fine, because we trusted Doctors to do their
    best, instead she died. She was too good a person to just be disregarded; I
    would gladly give my life right now if she could live again, because unlike me
    her life was worth something.

    So you can worship doctors all you want, you can consider
    them as gods who heal the world, but to me they’re all useless. 

  • http://twitter.com/shollum Shollum

    Vaccines can cause devastating allergic reactions though (’cause of the preservatives they put in them). They can even be lethal. So yes, some people should not get them unless they are fresh (and have no preservatives). And just for your information, the percent of people who have allergic reactions to vaccines is higher than you think.

    As for that bull about medicine not curing anything; viruses are only one cause of illness. Viruses are hard if not impossible to kill without killing the patient as well, so they can only treat the symptoms and assist the body in staying alive while it is fighting off the virus. Bacteria are another prevalent cause of illness, but they are obviously treatable.

    I honestly prefer natural treatments and preventive measures (which aren’t fake or placebos) to medication, but sometimes it’s necessary.

    Oh, and I’m quite healthy myself, but just as much of that is from my diet (sufficiently lacking in fast food, soda, and other processed food products) as it is from my own immune system.

    Everyone is ignorant of something, but your extreme ignorance of the body, illness, and the medical professions is just sad. I mean, this information is readily available to anyone in many places, so go learn something. It’s good for you.

    Of course, if you continue to ignore facts and don’t try to learn more about the world, then I will demote you to stupid (willfully ignorant. It’s an insult if you didn’t catch that).

  • Mescale
  • Pasukaru

    I think it’s sad that Japan doctors won’t tell the truth to their patient, but I’d say that it’s kind of the same situation everywhere. I work in intensive care unit and emergency in canada, and not that Doctors won’T tell the truth, but many tend to ”throw the ball” to their colleagues. By this I mean for example that they’ll say : ”Oh yes there is something but i can’t say for sure what it is exactly, so i’ll ask [put a body system here] Specialist to see what is the problem” When they actually know what it is, but just won’t be willing to tell the truth to the patient OR their family. Why? Most of the time, they don’t like telling someone that they’re going to die (Who would blame them, I wouldn’t like to announce that either). But the point is that in many occasions, many specialist will see the patient wihout telling exactly the entire truth but will treat the illness anyway (if a treatment can be done). So the patient stays ignorant but is still treated for something he doesn’t know. There are also sometimes a minority that see a patient that ask questions as a nuisance (motsly elder doctors) because they don’t like explaining and see themlseves as ”godlike” and think that asking question is questionning their capacity to diagnose AND find treatments.

    So do doctors lie everywhere in the world? I’d say YES because, unfortunatly, Everybody does =/

  • Zaywex

    There’s a way to look up what the medicine is online in a Japanese catalog right?

  • TC

    Reminds me of the flu that I caught last fall.  I was vomiting, dizzy, with a slight fever and cough.  I had someone from my host campus to help translate what the doctor said.  By the time I was done seeing him, he barely used a stethoscope when he told me I need antibiotics for a virus.  “Antibiotics” and “virus” in the same sentence?  Nuh-uh.  I acquiesced and bought the meds.  But I didn’t take them and healed up by the end of the week.  My trust in Japanese doctors really took a blow that day.  My family also has a history of melanoma, so this worries me a bit…  Makes me think twice before I seek out a Japanese dermatologist.

  • http://www.vietamins.com Viet

    Yowza. Good thing you were educated on the manner. Antibiotics wouldn’t do crap for viruses, if anything, it would makes things worse by weakening your immune system :(

  • http://mpenaud.wordpress.com/about/ Mpenaud

    Yep, Agree. 2 years ago I had a suspicion of appendicitis on a plane going from Fance to Japan and 2 japanese doctors were called and I’ve never been less reassured in my life with lots of “tabun” (maybe) and “it might be appendicitis, you might be ok until we arrive”. European doctors are assertive and “maybe” is not a word that you want to hear from a doctor. I was really frightenened (and alone) on a looong flight until I managed to get to a clinic in Kyoto (forget the smallish clinic at Kansai airport where they speak only japanese… and “appendicitis” and “blood sample” were missing from my vocabulary though luckiliy I had a dictionary.
    I guess what we really like about the japanese (politeness, being non assertive all the time) is exactly what prevents them from being good doctors though the doctor at the clinic in Kyoto was great.
    One thing it taught me is to prepare before I leave (coz the consulate is no help either and you might not speak the language) so now I have with me a list of French speaking doctors coz when you’re sick is not the time to look for one. 

  • Lava Yuki

    Over prescribing nd lying to patients? As a medical student, that seems unethical. I know that over prescribing is heavily controlled where i live due to dangerous drug interactions and death from overdose.

    But doctors here are trained at “breaking bad news” like cancer, so there is no need to lie. Anyway, if you were to treat cancer and such, patients have to sign consent forms etc… So no point in mis informing.