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Showing posts with label medicine. Show all posts
Showing posts with label medicine. Show all posts

Friday, September 13, 2013

Going to the Doctor in Tokyo


 Previous posts on this blog have pointed out some unpleasant aspects of medical care in Japan, but, as with everything, time and place are everything. I have the unpleasant habit of plucking my nosehairs - and at my desk! (sorry coworkers) - which is no doubt less pleasant to watch than the sight of the unruly nosehairs themselves.

Japanese health insurance card.

Anyway, the habit triggered a rebellion from my longsuffering nose two days ago, when some of the pores of plucked hairs became infected, right around the inside of my left nostril. The whole tip of my nose has become red, inflamed and bulbous - in a word, comical.

I went to the local drugstore in search of a cure, but because it was inside my nose, I was told that it was the doctor's domain, not theirs.

A quick internet search revealed an eye, nose and throat specialist very nearby the office. I rang them up and was told just to turn up: they didn't do reservations. So I walked over there, filled out a simple form, handed over my health insurance card (pictured above) to the friendly receptionist and waited five minutes.

I was then ushered into the spacious, spotlessly clean, high-tech clinic, where the genial doctor awaited, was promptly sat down, had a few pictures taken of the inside of my nose, was immediately shown them on the seat-side screen, and had my diagnosis confirmed: an infected nosehair pore.

I was out less than four minutes after I had entered, waited two minutes to get my prescription, went for a 15-second walk straight across the small street to the pharmacy, and walked out with my tube of antibacterial cream in less than three minutes.

The whole thing had taken less than 25 minutes and cost less than 1,500  yen. Everyone was amiable, attentive, efficient, knowledgeable - in a word, professional - and I was reassured, confident, satisfied - in a word, happy.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Male Japanese doctors


I have been in Japan for over two decades now and have sought the care or advice of a Japanese doctor or other medical personnel probably about twice a year every year to date. My first visit was shortly after I got to Japan, when I was learning the ancient Japanese sword art of iaido. I had been practicing with an unsharpened sword for months, and then the very first time my sensei gave me a real katana to practice with, I immediately sliced the base of my index finger with it and was rushed to hospital for stitches.

Japan has no shortage of doctors or hospitals. Clinics and hospitals are everywhere, and a visit to one rarely involves a walk or cycle ride of any more than ten minutes. Unlike New Zealand, where I am originally from, a visit to the hospital to see a doctor as an outpatient is quite the norm in Japan, even if you just suffering from a cold (which is also popularly considered a reason to seek medical attention in Japan).

Nakano General Hospital, Tokyo

I have never been admitted to a Japanese hospital. I have ever only been an outpatient. Visits subsequent to getting my sliced hand repaired include getting infections seen to, including an infection around my ass, in my ears, and, most recently, on one of my ankles. I have had a swollen prostate gland seen to, the middle of my right index finger stitched when I sliced it with a cup that suddenly broke, a verruca on my heel looked at, a case of kidney stones inspected, one or two dental cavities treated, an ankle sprain tended to, a slightly arthritic knee x-rayed, and sleep apnea analyzed.

The only excellent care I have ever received in Japan has been from female medical personnel, most notably the ear, nose, and throat specialist who has a clinic not far from where I live. She was professional in her manner, clearly well-balanced in terms of personality, eminently knowledgeable, very good at explaining the problem concisely and lucidly, and provided me with treatment that cleared up the infection almost immediately and for good. My encounters with other female medical staff have been limited mainly to nurses drawing blood, or the like, but they have all been consistently positive.

Japanese male doctors are a different story. The middle-aged doctor who I went to for the infection on my ass was at first very reluctant to even look at it. I can understand that. I would have been probably even more reluctant to look at his ass if he had asked me too, but then I’m not a doctor, and I’m not getting paid to look at people’s bodies. He eventually did, "tsked-tsked" at it, gave me some a prescription, and the next time I encountered him out in the neighborhood, the to-date polite enough old fellow averted his eyes with a look of clear disgust. The -again - middle-aged doctor at the Nakano General Hospital in Tokyo who treated me when I was taken to hospital in an ambulance beside myself with pain clearly saw something in me that he personally hated - whether my non-Japaneseness or not I will never know - and was surly, borderline violent in his physical handling of me, and sarcastic: a right bastard.

And yet perhaps the most memorable example of terrible Japanese doctors was that of the young doctor I went to, again at Nakano General Hospital, to get a painful little lump on my heel looked at. He looked at it, got a needle,warned me that “pus would come out” and stabbed it, only to find to his bewilderment that nothing but blood came out, with no sign of any pus. It was still as sore as ever after that and didn't go away, but I happened to be back in New Zealand a week later on a visit home and visited a local community clinic in Wellington that didn't have a doctor, just a couple of nurses. One of the nurses took a look at it, prodded it, and said right away, "That’s a verruca." I said, "Oh, OK, the doctor in Japan didn’t know what it was." She looked at me with a very doubtful face and said matter-of-factly "Well, he can’t have been a doctor then," and it took quite a bit of effort to convince her that actually, officially, he was.

Nakano General Hospital, Tokyo

Those are just three experiences of awful male Japanese doctors, but there are many more: typically tales of arrogance and ineptitude - and sometimes personal weirdness, none of them good qualities on their own, but often encountered in a single practitioner and exacerbated by each other.

Finally, and significantly, when I used to be a university teacher in Japan, the only student in the twelve years I taught who was so irredeemably lazy, complacent and dishonest that I felt I had no choice but to fail him was … a male medical student.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Over the Counter (OTC) Drugs in Japan


Japan has a huge domestic pharmaceuticals market, the biggest in the world after the United States with annual sales of between 7 and 8 trillion yen (USD88 - 100 billion) of which about USD8.7 billion's worth is in over the counter (OTC) (i.e. non-prescription) drugs.

With the rise of health foods and other health-related lifestyle products, the figure for OTC sales in Japan is on the way down. However, Japan remains an OTC drug paradise, with a huge range of products, many of them drawing on traditional Chinese medicine for their supposed efficacy, and many of them promising added vigor and stamina.

 The drugs in the photo above, taken in a Tokyo drug store, feature maca, the root from South America that purportedly can increase libido, turmeric (known as ukon in Japanese) that is supposed to be good for the digestion and have anti-cancer properties, garlic, zinc, and mixtures of all four.

Hyaluronan, a substance used in the body for tissue growth and healing, is also a popular ingredient in OTC medicines, and a few can be seen on the bottom shelf in the photo.

 (The statistics quoted here are from Yoku Wakaru Iyakuhin Gyokai (Understanding the Pharmaceutical Industry) by Tsuyoshi Nagao, Nippon Jitsugyo Publishing, 2007.)

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Friday, June 17, 2011

Siebold Memorial Museum

One of my favorite places in Nagasaki is the Siebold Memorial Museum situated in the pleasant hills above Nagasaki Station and the harbor.

Siebold Memorial Museum

The Siebold Memorial Museum is located on a plot near to where Siebold's former house in the Narutaki district once stood. The museum is dedicated to the life and work of Philipp Franz von Siebold (1796-1866), a German physician and naturalist who came to Japan as part of the Dutch trading house in Dejima, Nagasaki.

Siebold Memorial Museum, Nagasaki

Erected by Nagasaki city, the Siebold Memorial Museum building and entrance are a reproduction of Siebold's own house in Leiden and the Lotz family house in Würzburg, Germany, where he grew up and studied at Würzburg University.

Siebold first came to Japan via Batavia (Indonesia) in 1823. Fortunately Siebold was able to escape the harsh confines of Dejima after successfully treating a local shogunate official and he set up home nearby the present museum with his common-law Japanese wife Kusumoto Taki. Their only child Oine was later to become the first practicing female doctor in Japan.

With the permission of the Tokugawa authorities, Siebold set up a school called the Narutaki-juku, which grew into an institute for rangaku ("Dutch Studies"), Japan's only window on western technology at the time through the medium of Dutch.

Siebold is most famous in Japan for his extensive studies of Japanese flora and fauna. Siebold and his numerous Japanese assistants and helpers amassed a huge collection of plants and animal specimens, which were sketched by local and Dutch artists and form part of the many exhibits at the museum. Indeed, the first specimen sent to Europe of the Japanese Giant Salamander was by Siebold.

Expelled back to Europe in 1830 after the so-called "Siebold Incident" when the doctor was found in possession of maps of Japanese territory, an act forbidden at the time, Siebold set up his huge collection in Leiden, Holland, bolstered by more specimens sent from his successor in Nagasaki, Heinrich Bürger.

Siebold achieved world fame as a naturalist for his great work Flora Japonica, the first study of Japanese flora. He returned briefly to Japan from 1859-1863 during the Bakumatsu Period but left disillusioned.

The events surrounding Siebold's life are loosely interwoven into the novel The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell.

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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Roku Shingan Chinese Medicine

Roku shingan六神丸

Kyoto is home to many small, medium, and a handful of quite large companies.

Many of the larger, better-known companies - Nintendo (playing cards), Kyocera (ceramics), Wacoal (textiles), Omron (electronics) - were born of humble origins prior to growing into their present incarnations (noted in the parenthesis).

Another product born in Kyoto is Roku Shingan. This is a miracle drug - Chinese herbal medicine - that is good for an upset tummy, dizziness, intestinal pain, and much more.

The tiny black dot-like pills contain the following:

dried cow gallstones
serow (wild goat) horn

Some of the ingredients are no longer commercially available because of environmental restrictions - the Washington Convention. The company, however, insists that it has stocks to last decades.

The banner above right is around the corner from Hirano Shrine, and is where the medicine was born (after the technology was imported from China one hundred years ago).

Short of swearing off booze, it is the closest thing to a cure for a hangover.


Availability is generally limited to Kyoto drug stores following a change in national law governing drugs and distribution thereof

5,250 yen for 48 pills

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