In Japan, You Visit A Scary Japanese Doctor 12+ Times A Year Because the doctor says so, and he is the law-giver

    Japanese hospital experiences are known to be a little… wild… but when I saw this chart I thought it had some pretty interesting information in it. The main goal of this chart was to show how ridiculous America’s per person spending on health care is (while still doing pretty mediocre in terms of life), but of course my eyes were immediately drawn to Japan’s data.

    If you look at the chart, you’ll see that Japan’s life expectancy is very high (it’s the diet, methinks, though even that seems to be changing with Western influence), and they visit a doctor an average of 12 times per year! Can you imagine going to the doctor 12 times per year? I can barely imagine going once per year (though I suppose that’s why Americans visit doctors 0 times per year, according to the chart, ouch).

    Doctor checking a Japanese womans leg

    Surprisingly, though, for a country that visits a doctor 12 or more times a year, it isn’t costing people as much. People are spending approximately $2581 a year on health care in Japan, which isn’t chump change, but isn’t all that much either. Still, though, I can’t help but think that with all the horror stories I hear about Japanese doctors (I’ve only had to experience this once, thankfully, and luckily it wasn’t all that bad… unless they were lying about the lack of tumor in my head, which is completely possible) Japanese people are heading to the doctor a little too much. I don’t think the long life expectancy would go down if people went, say, 6 times a year?

    Why Japanese Doctors Are Scary

    There are plenty of reasons why Japanese doctors are, in general, kind of frightening. Luckily, Japan is an advanced first world country, which makes it less scary than going to a doctor in, say, Canada (just kidding, Canada!), but I’d rather go to a doctor in the U.S. or Canada (love your gravy and fries, Canada!) if I had something serious. If you are in need of a doctor in Japan, it’s generally best to find one that studied outside of Japan. The following list of scary Japanese doctor bullets are a generalization (so don’t take them as 100% true 100% of the time, because that won’t work), but will give you some insight as to why the whole doctor situation can cause a bit of a problem for foreigners in Japan.

    • Doctors get a commission for every bit of prescription they give to you. According to several stories, doctors will take your temperature, listen to your heart beat, look at your throat, and then prescribe something somewhat unrelated to how you’re feeling. Stomach pain? What stomach pain? On top of that, you’ll get several different kinds of prescriptions, too much (or too little) of each, and often times something that doesn’t help you at all.
    • If you have something bad, doctors might not tell you about it. They might tell your family, but the problem with that is the family might not tell you about it either. Whoops. “6 months to live? Who said that? Nah, you’re fine, just eat your wakame.”
    • Japanese medicine comes from German medicine. Nothing wrong with German medicine, but I’d prefer my Japanese doctors learning specifically Japanese medical terms instead of German ones. I’ve also heard about plenty of Japanese doctors who learn medicine in German. Learn your life saving knowledge in your own native language, please!
    • You can’t really question your doctor. Even when things don’t seem to make sense, it’s insulting to ask the doctor for an explanation. Though, as mentioned earlier, Japanese doctors who have studied outside of Japan seem to take this better, from various stories and articles I’ve gone through.
    • In Japan, if you get almost anything, you go to a doctor. I don’t know how many times my host family tried to get me to see a doctor when I had a regular, not-all-that-bad common cold. That’s not something I really need to see a doctor for, thanks for the concern, though! Of course, there’s no data to back this up, but I imagine seeing common cold after common cold in the doctors office can make a doctor feel a bit too relaxed about how they diagnose something. Anyways, it makes me worried.
    • There isn’t really much competition between hospitals. Lots of competition in terms of the folks making the medicine, but not so much in terms of the actual doctors themselves, it seems.
    • You are discouraged from getting a second opinion (this goes back to questioning the doctor’s diagnosis). “How dare you question me! Did you go to Toudai? I think not!”
    Painting of a derelict hospital from Silent Hill

    All that being said, there are plenty of people who have great experiences in Japanese hospitals / with Japanese doctors as well. It’s not all horror (though that could explain Japan’s obsession with hospitals + horror games & movies), and if you find yourself sick in Japan it could be so much worse. More likely than not, you’ll probably have an okay to great experience, and then you can come back here and say “damnit Koichi, why you scare me so?”