Finding A Doctor In Tokyo Is Hard

The process of finding an English-speaking doctor in Tokyo after work hours was about as pleasurable as sitting on a large cactus. A pure pain in my butt!

This took place a month back. I had been extremely busy at work and there wasn’t a gap of space during work hours to pop off to the doctor.

I tried to make an appointment with a nearby clinic, but the receptionist spoke very little English. However, she linked me to a number where she said there was an English-speaking clinic. It turns out it was a hotline for medical help in English.

The hotline gave me the name of a clinic that closed at 7:30pm. So at 6:30pm, I cabbed over the clinic, where I found it closed. There was a nurse hanging around there, but she told me the doctor had left and gave me a pamphlet of the clinic’s closing hours (which, surprise, surprise, said it closed at 6:00pm). At this point, I was pretty annoyed because I was feeling very sick and I had spent time and money getting to the clinic for nothing. My next option was Tokyo Medical University Hospital. I cabbed there as fast as I could, because I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss their consultation hours.

The first thing they did was they told me because I was coming at 7, they would need to charge me an additional 8,000 yen. This is about 80 USD. I was feeling really bad so I said ok, sure, whatever. Just charge me. Now that I think about it, I must have been truly sick. An extra 80 USD for nothing? I might as well have gone for a nice massage!

Then the nurse came, and told me that they wouldn’t be able to do any blood tests on me. I was a bit perplexed. I didn’t understand why I needed to have any tests done on me when a doctor hadn’t even examined me. Earlier, they had given me a form to fill; in which I listed I had shortness of breath, some nausea and a fever. The nurse said that since I had listed so many problems, I probably needed a battery of tests and X rays. I then told her that I didn’t think what I had was serious, and she could forget all the other problems except for the shortness of breath, which was what I really wanted checked. Here, she started becoming a little reluctant and started hemming and hawing about how I should really just come back the next day. At this point, I was ready to throw the clipboard at her head. I was feeling ill, I was in a hospital with a nurse looking at me, and I didn’t see a need to go home and come back the next day. I told her I was feeling very bad right now, and could I just see a doctor and get him to tell me what was wrong with me?

Now, in an increasingly agitated tone, she told me again that I should come back the next day. She also inferred that since I was not an emergency case, I should just really come back the next day.

I then asked, “So then, do you need me to faint and die before I get to see a doctor now?” and, to my surprise, she said, “Yes.”

“YES?” I blared back at her face.

“I mean, no. I mean, just come back tomorrow. Come back tomorrow! Come back tomorrow!” she repeated. She was now like a robot that had malfunctioned and was stuck on loop on a sentence. I was furious at this point. Bear in mind I was feeling very sick too, so my tolerance level was a lot lower than it usually was. (Okay, let’s be honest! My tolerance level is not very high to begin with!)

I wasn’t sure whether this was a communication error and I couldn’t interpret her intention correctly. Her English was quite good so I didn’t think it was a case of miscommunication. I was so fed up I got up and stomped off. Here, she bleated after me, “Why do you want to come today? The doctor can’t speak English tonight!”

In hindsight, my take on the situation is that there weren’t any English-speaking doctors that evening. Instead of just telling me there weren’t any doctors that could speak English, she tried every other possible way to get rid of me to avoid her having to tell me this. Perhaps this is for her to save face for the doctor? I have no idea, and this is really just hazardous guesswork on my part. I could be getting this completely wrong. I think though, she could have just told me from the get go and I could have called one of my Japanese friends and asked their help for translation.

I went home with a large cloud of anger hanging over me. I was also pretty worried, because I wondered what would happen to me if I ever had a medical emergency. A doctor suddenly seemed to be as accessible as cheap front row seats to a Lady Gaga concert.

The next day, when I was feeling calmer, I called another nearby clinic. I said in English, “Hello, I would like to make an appointment.”

Chotto matte kudasai!” which means, please wait a moment. I waited. And waited. And waited for another 10 minutes. My calm mood turned sour. I hung up, and asked for one of my Japanese colleagues to help me call the clinic and speak in Japanese. They picked up immediately, and my colleague proceeded to ask them if there were any English-speaking doctors in the clinic. It took them a good 15 minutes to say there weren’t any English-speaking doctors in the clinic, but they could refer her to one.

I called the number they gave me, and again it turned out not to be a clinic, but the same hotline for medical help in English.

At the beginning, I’m sorry to say I was rather tetchy and snarky and gave them a piece of my mind for sending me to a clinic which had closed earlier than they had specified. However, the girl that was taking my call, Cathy, was truly a professional. She checked her information again and told me it was the information they had at that point of time, and they were sorry they had the wrong information but they would update it. She asked me to call her back in 15 minutes, where she would check for some clinics that had English-speaking staff. I called back in 15 minutes, and she had 2 clinics for me. She had also called them and ensured they were open.

So then, I headed to the clinic – it’s called Shinjuku Eastside Takeuchi Naika Service was really prompt, doctor was really nice, and there was a nearby drugstore to buy the medicine after that. I would definitely recommend this clinic if you’re a foreigner looking for an English speaking doctor in Shinjuku.

If you need an English-speaking doctor in Tokyo, you basically have two options. One, there is a list of English-speaking clinics HERE which you can check out. They were all a little far from me so I didn’t go there. And, of course, I highly do not recommend Tokyo Medical University Hospital which is in there. Your second option will be to call this helpline, which I think is a great service they provide for the non-Japanese speaking foreigners.

The third option, which I really should do, is start learning to speak Japanese and most of your problems will be sorted. After all, if I’m living in Japan, I better damn well learn the language and stop being one of those annoying gaijin that don’t speak the language!

I hope you found this helpful!!

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Ann Jie

Loves good conversations and hates small talk. Finds people fascinating and wonders why meanies exist. Loves writing violent, graphic short stories but finds horror movies too scary to watch. Follow me on Instagram @annjieslices or tweet me a slice of YOUR life at @annjieslices!

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