Getting Assistance in Japan
We are happy to say that Japan is one of the safest countries to live and travel. When here, hopefully you’ll never have to seek any assistance however if you should, rest assured help is easy to access. On this page you will find the following information:
2 / Emergency Assistance – Police, Ambulance & Fire
3 / Health System – Hospitals vs Clinics
4 / Attending a Japanese Hospital
5 / COVID-19
6 / Insurance
7 / Emergency Warning System (EWS): Earthquakes, Tsunamis & Typhoons
For further essential travel information, see our ‘Plan Your Visit’ main page.
1 / FOREIGN LANGUAGE SERVICES
English is a compulsory language for all Japanese throughout their schooling. Despite this, many visitors to Japan are surprised by the apparent lack of English and other foreign languages spoken here. First impressions are however a little misleading. While Japanese learn English for the duration of their schooling, their tuition has a strong focus on reading and writing. Many Japanese read and write English at a high level but when it comes to speaking, they can lack confidence. This is likely the result of an education system that does not prioritise speaking nor instill students with the confidence to try.
This should however not be mistaken with an inability to speak English. Even if they are not confident speaking English, many Japanese have a good understanding and adequate vocabulary to comprehend what you are saying as long as you speak clearly, slowly and politely. Remember, Japanese borrows a lot of words from English so you can often get your point across by just slowing down and using plain language.
Unfortunately, at this time Japan does not provide a free national interpreting service that is available in many countries. There are however some regional services available across the country including in our home region of Nagano. If you are in Nagano, the Nagano Multilingual Call Center for Traveler Support is available 24 hours and can provide assistance for any travel-related matter, including seeking medical attention.
The call center can be contacted on 0120-691-792 (inside Japan) or +81-92-687-5289 (outside Japan), and offers the following languages: English / Chinese / Korean / Thai / Bahasa Indonesia / German / French / Italian / Russian / Spanish / Portuguese / Vietnamese / Nepali / Tagalog / Bahasa Melayu.
2 / EMERGENCY ASSISTANCE – POLICE, AMBULANCE & FIRE
Japan maintains two emergency phone numbers: Police 110 / Ambulance & Fire 119. As you’d expect, both services are available 24 hours. Japanese police are typically polite and reasonable to deal with. Visitors should not hesitate to approach or contact the police should they need assistance. Throughout Japan, police maintain neighbourhood stations called ‘koban’ (交番). Stations operate 24 hours a day and can be identified by the golden insignia. All major train stations will have a koban.
When dealing with the police, be polite and respectful. If you are stop by the police, cooperate and remain calm and you should not have any problem. Japan enjoys one of the best health systems in the world including its ambulance service. It is important to note that using an ambulance in Japan is free of charge, even for international visitors. Therefore should you require emergency medical assistance or should someone call an ambulance on your behalf, don’t hesitate to use it. You won’t be charged. Likewise, the fire brigade is highly-trained and well-equipped to handle all manner of emergencies ranging from fire to medical assistance and natural disasters including earthquakes.
3 / HEALTH SYSTEM – HOSPITALS vs. CLINICS
Japan has one of the world’s best health systems, evidenced by the fact that Japanese have the longest life expectancy. During your visit, we hope you won’t have any need to use the health system but should it be necessary, take comfort in the fact that you are in a country with world-class medical facilities. With that in mind, it’s worth noting how the health system is structured and what to expect. The Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) provides a database of available medical facilities that can be searched by area, assistance needed, language and other factors. This website also provides useful pdf files covering health services in multiple languages.
Should you require medical assistance the first thing you will need to decide is whether to visit a clinic or hospital. Clinics are located everywhere in Japan. Most accept walk-in patients however it is worth noting that they are often only staffed by one doctor and are likely to specialise in a specific field i.e. dermatology, etc. You are also unlikely to find many clinics with doctors, nurses and staff that speak fluent English or other languages. Clinics are an option should you illness not be serious however, in most cases – especially if you have concerns about COVID-19 – using a hospital will be your best option.
Unlike some countries, you do not need a doctors referral or emergency reason to visit a hospital in Japan. Most accept walk-in patients and offer a far greater range of facilities and services than clinics. You are also far more likely to find English or other foreign language services at hospitals; and while they may not be able to communicate fluently, it should be adequate to get your point across. The trade-off with attending hospitals is that you will need to wait longer. However, ultimately it’s worth it therefore our recommendation is to use a hospital.
4 / ATTENDING A JAPANESE HOSPITAL
While procedures will vary between hospitals, they will generally follow a similar order. The first thing to note is that if you are attending a hospital in Japan, you are expected to wear a face mask. Regardless of the illness, this is considered normal and you may well be told-off if you don’t.
1 / Upon arrival, you will need to speak to the registration desk. They will collect some personal information from you and for international travelers, ask regarding your travel insurance*.
2 / You will then be directed to relevant area of the hospital to undergo assessment. Once your assessment/treatment is finished, you will be directed back to the registration desk. If you require medication, the doctor will hand you the prescription to take with you.
3 / At the registration desk, or nearby counter, you will be requested to complete payment.
4 / If you have been issued with a prescription, you will be directed to the pharmacy who will fill your prescription and receive payment for your medicine.
Most hospitals use a number system to direct patients to the correct floor and area, so even if you don’t speak Japanese, you should be able to navigate your way around the hospital without too much trouble.
In the case of an emergency, it is worth noting that ambulances can be used free of charge in Japan, even for international visitors. Should you require one or one is called for you, rest assured that it is provided as a free service in Japan and you won’t be left with a nasty expense at the end. At this time, if you expect you have symptoms of COVID-19 and require a test or treatment in Japan, you are requested to first speak to a health services over the phone rather than attend a hospital or clinic unannounced. Please refer below for a list of foreign language services in Japan.
*If you don’t have insurance or evidence of your insurance, you will still be treated but be prepared for potentially expensive charges.
5 / COVID-19
Get the latest news and information about COVID-19 in Japan including the roll-out of Japan’s COVID-19 vaccination program including which vaccines will be used, when and who will be vaccinated, and whether you need to be vaccinated to travel here. If you are in Tokyo and displaying symptoms of COVID-19, the Tokyo COVID-19 Call Center is staffed by English, Chinese, Korean and Japanese-speaking operators / 0570-550-571 from 09:00 to 22:00 daily.
6 / INSURANCE
Always take-out travel insurance which includes medical cover prior to entering Japan. While Japan is a very safe country, it is not a perfect country and unfortunate things can happen. Should you require medical treatment and you do not have insurance that covers it, you will still be treated but may well be left with a very expensive charge at the end. Ensure that your travel insurance includes adequate medical cover and we recommend checking what cover it provides should you require treatment, isolation or travel cancellations due to COVID-19.
7 / EMERGENCY WARNING SYSTEM (EWS): EARTHQUAKES, TSUNAMIS & TYPHOONS
As the most seismically active country in the world, Japan is used to its share of earthquakes and other challenges. The regularity and earthquakes and natural occurrences including typhoons and consequent flooding, volcanoes and tsunamis are simply part of life in Japan. Japanese have long lived with, and risen to the challenge presented by, these events and in recent decades have developed one of the world’s best ‘Emergency Warning Systems (EWS)’ networks, systems which worked well during the earthquake and tsunami of 2011 and large typhoon which struck in 2019. Similarly, from a young age Japanese are taught what to do in emergency situations and to follow public announcements and directions during times of crisis. As such, Japan and the Japanese people are well-placed to respond to the challenge of COVID-19. Should you be here at a time that COVID-19 recurs or disrupts travel and movement, rest assured that you will be well looked after.
The Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) maintains an ‘Emergency Warning System (EMS)’ that provides automatic, free-of-charge alerts in relation to earthquakes, tsunami, heavy rain, storm surges and volcanic activity. When activity is detected or a major event take places, the EMS automatically sends alerts to all mobile phones in the affected area. Television and radio stations will also relay real-time emergency information and if the event is serious enough, interpret their broadcasts to provide live information.
If your phone receives an emergency alert, you’ll know all about it. Your phone will emit a loud, repeating alarm that you can’t miss and emergency information will be displayed. The message will be in Japanese. Should you receive an alert, don’t panic. The system monitors activity and predicts possible events that are not guaranteed to take place meaning that many alerts are followed by nothing. However should you experience an emergency, stay calm and follow the directions you provided. Japanese are well-drilled and will assist you. For up-to-date information, refer to following websites: JMA Earthquake & Seismic Information / JMA Tsunami Warning Information / JMA Extreme Weather Information / JMA Volcanic Activity Information.
JMA also provides the following do’s and don’ts should you receive an earthquake alert, tsunami alert, volcanic activity alert: how to respond to an earthquake warning / how to respond to a tsunami warning / how to respond to a volcano warning.
Government issued-pamphlets also provide information about useful apps in multiple languages including English, Chinese, Korean, Spanish, Vietnamese, Bahasa, Thai and more.
8 / FOREIGN EMBASSIES
Many countries maintain embassies and consulates in Japan. Passport-holders of the following countries should refer to their appropriate embassy or consulate for further information regarding COVID-19 advice and assistance:
Argentina / Australia / Belgium / Brazil / Canada / Chile / China / Denmark / Finland / France / Germany / Greece / Indonesia / Ireland / Israel / Italy / Korea / Malaysia / Mexico / Netherlands / New Zealand / Norway / Philippines / Portugal / Russia / Singapore / South Africa / Spain / Sweden / Switzerland / Taiwan / Thailand / Turkey / United Kingdom / United States / Vietnam