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Hospitals & Clinics in Hakuba, Japan - Skiing Preparation

Hakuba Japan in Nagano prefecture is world-renown for its Olympic-class winter resorts. Blessed with an abundance of powder snow and well-equipped facilities, locals and travelers flock to this winter wonderland. When planning for a trip to Hakuba, we should also know which hospitals and clinics to go to in the unfortunate case of broken bones or other medical emergencies.

The following excerpt from the Hakuba tourism bureau’s pamphlet on medical services is interesting for what it does and doesn’t say:

Japan has an excellent health care system that is comparable to western standards, and many doctors speak some English. In Hakuba, clinic hours are usually 8:30am – 12pm and 1:30pm – 5:30pm. Most clinics are closed on weekends and holidays. However, there is at least one doctor’s office on duty for weekends and holidays. If you need medical assistance, please check with the reception desk at your hotel.

Japan as a whole does have excellent healthcare comparable to that in most Western countries. However, Hakuba is a small village deep in the mountainous countryside, and has the same trouble that most rural Japanese communities have in attracting and retaining top-flight physicians. The extreme seasonality of the local economy compounds the problem.

Considering the high incidence of winter sports-related injuries a resort town like Hakuba sees—such as bone and joint injuries, and head trauma—you might expect to find a higher level of care for such injuries. However, the doctors at the seven clinics in the Hakuba region (see list below) are all internal/general medicine practitioners rather than specialists. (One welcome presence in Hakuba’s healthscape is Hakuba Physio, the Hakuba branch of an Australian-run physical therapy chain that caters to English-speaking skiers.)

Shintani Clinic 0261-75-4177
Yokosawa Clinic 0261-72-2008
Kurita Clinic 0261-72-2428
Hakuba Shinryojo 0261-75-4123
Kitazawa Clinic 0261-72-2013
Otanimura Shinryojo 0261-82-2044

A shoulder injury a long-time Hakuba resident sustained during a hard fall on the slopes therefore highlights the importance of getting a follow-up opinion at a larger facility. While the local clinic correctly identified a partial hairline fracture of the collarbone—a minor injury that would have mended on its own within weeks—the doctor failed to immobilize it properly. The fracture grew and the bone split, creating a serious condition requiring resetting and surgery, significantly more pain, and months of recovery. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated case.

So while getting sick in Hakuba is not an issue, traumatic injuries can be, since the closest emergency room, orthopedists and brain trauma specialists are at least a half-hour drive south from Hakuba at Omachi Municipal Hospital in the town of Omachi. Farther south of Omachi is Azumino, home of the Japan Red Cross Hospital. Still further are the larger cities of Nagano City and Matsumoto City.

And like most clinics in Japan, Hakuba’s local medical facilities strictly adhere to their stated opening and closing times. For after-hours pediatric and urgent internal medicine needs in and around Hakuba, you’ll have to call the designated hotline (0261-26-6199) to find out which clinic is operating that particular day. Likewise, although clinics are closed on Sundays and Japanese national holidays, one clinic is always open. The calendar of clinics on-call on Sundays and national holidays can be found here, but again, is in Japanese only. The hotline and on-call list also require knowledge of Japanese, so unless your Japanese is good you will likely need to enlist the help of hotel staff, as the tourism bureau suggests.

At the clinic as well, English may or may not be a problem, depending on which doctor you see, but most physicians can at least give you the Latin medical nomenclature (albeit in katakana fashion) for a condition. If you don’t understand, they will no doubt be happy to write it down for you.

Jeff Graves, founder and CEO of Ukiyo Resorts
Jeff Graves is the founder and CEO of Ukiyo Resorts, a consulting and management company specializing in destination resorts in Japan, and the operator of winterkit.jp—a site dedicated to providing foreigners with resources to overcome the barriers they face when traveling in Japan in winter.

Tags:Japan, Travel