Saturday, October 4, 2014

Do's and don'ts of going to a hospital in Tokyo

For a lot of foreigners, figuring out which hospital to go to, can be a big drama.

I'm posting this blog today, because I have been hospital hopping for the past three weeks. I'll get to that part later. For now, let me give you a quick break down of what to expect at a Japanese hospital and what you should prepare.

To prepare:

Your national insurance card
If you do not have national insurance, then you have to work out with your International provider how to pay.
Letter of introduction (except in the case of the emergency room)
*You can get a referral letter from your local GP
A friend who speaks Japanese, if you don't know Japanese*
*For subsequent appointments, you may be OK to go without a friend, if you were lucky enough to be assigned to an English-speaking specialist and you are comfortable with the check-in process.

 You'll find an bilingual friend helpful for the initial paper work and to make sure there are no "lost in translation" moments during your appointment. Be sure to remember the check-in process. For mothers, contact the Tokyo Mother's Group to find a bilingual volunteer who can help you. There are a lot of mothers who volunteer to help out other mothers in Japan. I can also help you, by the way (email me directly:, even if it is to translate over the phone. Seriously, send me an email.

International Clinics

These are great places to go to for general check-ups; however, it is best to ask for a referral letter for more serious appointments requiring a specialist. Big hospitals have access to better facilities and there are a lot of qualified doctors who can help. International clinics can set up an appointment for you and give the basic information of your condition to the hospital in advance. Make sure to bring a letter from your GP, explaining your condition. This is a must. Ask for it at the International Clinic.

International Clinics, for preliminary diagnosis and hospital referral

Hiro International Clinic
Open: M-F
Saturdays til noon

I like Dr. Tsutsumi at Hiro International Clinic. He's knowledgeable in both U.S. and Japanese medicine and has a lot of contacts at hospitals with English speaking doctors (especially the Red Cross). He also accepts both International, as well as Japanese national health insurance. He speaks perfect English too and is great with kids.

His clinic is close to the New Sanno Hotel and French Embassy. He also can take X-Rays right at his clinic. They manage patient appointments well and so there is not usually too long of a wait. If you want to see a specialist in any area, I suggest going to see Dr. Tsutsumi first, have him refer you and make the appointment on your behalf. It will save you a lot of drama and make everything smooth when you visit the doctor. Plus, with him being a respected doctor, with his referral, the hospital will flag that you need English assistance and the doctors at the hospital will take you more seriously because you have his referral.

Tokyo Medical and Surgical Center
This is the place that I think most foreigners go to. It is located next to Tokyo Tower. The benefit of this place, is that there is parking. Dr. Sakamoto has an office there (the famous OBGYN) (continued);

Dr. Sakamoto's Omotesando clinic

However, I prefer his Omotesando clinic, which is strictly for OBGYN purposes. I.e., you are not around sick people in an international clinic. It is a nicer office and half the price because you are not paying the "international health clinic" premium. He accepts Japanese national health insurance at his Omotesando office, as well as international insurance. He only accepts International insurance at TMSC.

Tokyo Mid-Town Clinic
You can go here and be fine without knowing Japanese. They have English speaking doctors and very nice facilities. It is located in Mid-Town. I had my health check-up there and really liked the doctors. It is open later than other clinics (until 7PM), so perfect if you are working. They are open 9-12 on Saturdays. Closed Sundays. Facility wise, it is better than an international clinic, but not as large as a hospital.
TEL: 03-5413-7911

Red Cross Hospital (Hiro)
Facilities are great. Very modern. It is very nice inside. You have a buzzer that goes off when it is your appointment and sends you updates to this buzzer, such as "Please wait in front of the doctor's room now", "See the front desk" "Your name will be called shortly", etc. I like this system very much. Because there are a lot of foreign patients, there usually is someone who can  speak English. If you mention that you cannot speak Japanese, they will put you with an English-speaking doctor, if available. And there are usually English speaking doctors.

The Red Cross requires that you have a letter of introduction, before seeing them. If you do not have this letter, you will be charged 3000 yen or 4000 yen extra, and making an appointment can be a drama. (see my comment about getting a referral letter from Dr. Isao Tsutsumi at Hiro International Clinic).

Tokyo Women's Medical University Hospital

*Very famous for pediatrics
I was referred to this hospital from Aiku hospital. It is a university hospital and they are always looking for the latest treatments and methods. The pediatrics department is very famous. I took my sons there and the doctor sat with us for AN HOUR, carefully accessing them. This is unheard of. Most hospitals and doctors will see you for 10 minutes and then schedule a follow-up.

I saw Dr. Imai, who does not speak English. He is very, very thorough. I suggest getting a referral letter from a clinic and then going to see him on a Wednesday morning. On Wednesdays, their pediatrics only accept new patients who hold referral letters. So, you won't have the typical 1-2 hour wait. Yes, there is usually a wait. But, it is for a reason. They are good. Very good. I noticed one of the nurses was completely bilingual.

My son had an MRI there, where he had to stay overnight. They did 2 tests on his chests and examined him very closely before using the anesthesia. They are very cautious with children and . The pediatric ward was very nice. There were little cars like strollers that parents push their kids in. For X-rays, the aprons had panda pictures on them. They are staffed with a lot of doctors, as well as university students, always looking for new ways to treat illnesses.

Aiku Hospital
A great hospital for basic pediatric care. They can take care of the basics, colds, etc., but when you have something needing a specialist, they will refer you to another hospital.

 National Hospital for Global Health and Medicine
(English portion on HP)
When you have tried everything else and you STILL don't have an answer, go here. If you have a puzzling illness, you should go here. Their doctors are trained in rare overseas diseases, infectious diseases, and more. I was reffered to them by Tokyo Joshi Dai because of my sons' puzzling illness.

Why I am hospital hopping.
Both of my sons woke up a month ago, while we were in Australia, not being able to use their hands properly. Their hands have been locked in a fist position and then at times, not being able to shut properly at all, on and off for the past month. It is the strangest thing I've ever seen. Why both of them?

Our local GP at Hiro International Clinic, Dr. Tsutsumi, referred us to the Red Cross
We saw an orthopedic doctor, who diagnosed them with tendinitis. However, the doctor did not even properly look at their hands (or even touch them) and made the diagnosis too quickly, for my taste. When I went to Tokyo Women's University Hospital, the doctors there said that they don't think the cause is orthopedic because it is too random for them both to have this condition at the same time. We are still looking for answers to this mystery. I'll go to the National Hospital for Global Health and Medicine at the beginning of the week and see what they have to say.

Please, wish me luck. I appreciate any information to help in my search for a diagnosis.


  1. Hi Janica,

    I hope your sons' hand problem has been resolved by now. Did you ever find out what it was?

    Kudos for raising your kids bi-lingually. It is definitely worth it!

    I discovered your blog because I was looking for a place to get my ears pierced in Tokyo but the link to that part of your blog seems to have gone down--do you know of a good place to do it?