The One about Medicine and Drug Stores in Japan

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One thing that can possibly put a damper on your vacation to Japan is getting sick.  Especially if you are traveling between November-April.

While I get my flu shots in the winter, I often recommend friends to do the same.

But you will be near many people who are coughing and hacking in the train and there is no escape.  While there are those who are prepared by wearing surgical masks to prevent themselves from getting sick or getting others sick, not everyone in Japan wears a mask.

And for myself, who rarely gets sick, with my body trying to get used to the time change and lack of sleep, despite the fact that I rarely get sick, I got sick.

Fortunately, you can find a pharmacy (kusuri-ya) nearby. May it be the local CVS or drugstore, you need to make sure you have your Google Translate app ready or remember this kanji:  薬 (which means medicine and in Japan, you pronounce it as kusuri – koo-soo-ri).

But there are a few important things to know about medicine in Japan.

For one, unlike the United States where you can take a pill every four hours or once a day, in Japan, the medicine is much weaker, so you are taking more than what you are used to.

Don’t think about bringing your cold medicine to Japan, because some of our medicine in the US is banned in Japan. And you also don’t want to bring the medicine back home, because what is legal in Japan may be illegal in your country.  Also, the medicine will make you drowsy and a lot of the ibuprofen medicines do come with caffeine.

When purchasing medicine in Japan, expect to pay around $10-$15 (US).

You will see a pharmacist or an employee who can help you but if you can’t communicate in Japanese, you can demonstrate (or they will demonstrate) what you need.  Runny nose?  Sore throat?  Head ache?

In fact, you can just point to where it hurts and say “itai” (pronounced as ee-tai which means hurts/pain).

But just in case, you can refer to these words:

  • Runny Nose is Hanamizu
  • Sneezing is Kushami
  • Cough is Seki
  • Sore Throat is Nodo no Itami
  • Fever is Netsu
  • Headache is Zutsuu
  • Hay Fever is Kafunsho

Before I go on, it’s important to DO YOUR RESEARCH before purchasing medicine and know it’s contents. I am not a doctor or a pharmacist, so do your research and ask around in Japan to make sure you get the medication you need.

Amazon Japan has the warning labels on their site, so you may want to input the text on Google Translate, just in case you have allergies towards certain medication.

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Here is a common medicine you will find that is multi-symptom and the medicine is called “Esutakku Eve Fine” or “Ruru A Gold DX”  are probably the only medicine you will need.

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Then there is “Lulu Attack Ex” for sore throats, fever, runny nose, coughing, congestion and they are sold in 12-packs, 18-pack or 24-pack.

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If you are coughing like crazy and need to break up that phlegm, there is SS Bron.   These are offered in pill or liquid format.

They also have a children’s version, if your kids get sick.  But only take this if you have severe coughing.

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But lets say you just have a runny nose or are sneezing from hay fever, then Arejion is all you need.

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If you are in pain, may it be muscle pain, gout or whichever.  Bufferin A is what you will need.  Fortunately, the word Bufferin is printed on the outside of the box.   And there is EVE A which comes with Ibuprofen and can make you drowsy or impaired because it’s a sedative.

But the problem that many will have and what I had is how much to take.  At first, looking at one medication, it said take four.  And I was shocked and had to go to the hotel employee (who spoke English) and confirm if what I read was correct.  And sure enough, it was.

I asked a friend of why it’s like that and he explained that certain Japanese cold medicine is not as powerful as American medicine.

But once again, please do your research about Japanese cold medications before purchasing them. Know that there is pill form or powder form, that you can purchase of the medicine.  For cough medicine, you may see liquid versions such as SS Bron.

As for surgical masks, you can find them easily at the pharmacy or convenience stores fairly cheap.  Look for the type with good straps and if you prefer your masks to be scented.

Definitely ask the pharmacist and communicate with them (you can point and demonstrate where it hurts, they will understand) and also have your Google Translate app on your phone ready, so you can communicate with them easily.


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Dennis A. Amith