Is Japan for Me?

Considerations when choosing Japan

You may be asking why Japan isn’t dominating the medical tourism market in Asia, given this high level of healthcare, skilled doctors, advanced medical equipment and procedures and generally reasonable prices.

Here’s the answer: With a sizable population of 127 million people, Japan has traditionally been domestically focused when it comes to healthcare. Unlike Asia’s early entrants—Singapore, Thailand, India, Malaysia and Korea—it was not until 2009 that the Japanese government identified medical tourism as an area for economic stimulus and growth.

Over the past few years, several government agencies have been strategizing and taking action, and the number of overseas patients is beginning to grow. Medical visas were introduced in 2010, and Tokyo’s successful bid for the 2020 Olympics has further motivated the government and medical facilities to better prepare for patients from overseas.

Japan is famed for its hospitality (omotenashi), but when it comes to medical treatment medical institutions and care providers are more “patient” than “customer” oriented. The traditional Japanese doctor-patient relationship is one of expert and supplicant, with unquestioning compliance from the latter. While this is changing, Japanese patients tend to challenge less and ask fewer questions than can be expected from patients from overseas.

While hospital staffers here are definitely caring, they often have less experience in dealing with foreign patients, languages and customs. There are fewer doctors and other medical staff in Japan that speak English and other languages versus other countries in Asia, which can make it more difficult to communicate. And five-star rooms and amenities, while on the rise, are not as common in Japanese hospitals as they are in countries like Thailand and Malaysia.

The above not withstanding, there are many doctors who have studied overseas and speak English and other languages. A growing number of hospitals and clinics can also fully accommodate foreigners with state-of-the-art healthcare. HealthyIM has spoken with very satisfied patients who were pleasantly surprised at the detailed and supportive care they received before and after childbirth, for example, as well as others with supposedly incurable conditions who were successfully treated and credit their lives today to the doctors and staff in Japanese hospitals.

Bottom line: Japan is not for those seeking hospitals with extreme pampering or absolute English fluency. It is, however, a viable option for those seeking state-of-the-art, quality, reasonably priced health checks, cancer treatment, endoscopy, and advanced technologies with extremely capable medical practitioners.

Japan News & Features


Are Japanese Interested in Outbound Medical Tourism?

Medical tourism—which takes in anyone who crosses international borders to receive medical care—is a very healthy industry. Patients Beyond Borders believes the market is worth between US$24 and $40 billion, based on approximately eight million cross-border patients worldwide spending an average of US$3,000 to $5,000 per visit. Professor Helmut Wachowiak, an expert on tourism management at the International University of Applied Sciences at Bad Honnef in Germany, says the market is already worth $40 billion to $60 billion, and is growing at about 20 percent a year.


Japanese Hospital Visit - Seven things you need to know

Navigating a healthcare system in a foreign country is seldom easy, especially if you don’t know the system or speak the language well. Before you visit a Japanese hospital—on an emergency basisor otherwise—here are seven things you should know:


Japan's medical system provides some of the world’s best healthcare

To gauge a health-care system’s success, it’s standard to consider three points: quality, coverage, and cost. On all three measures, Japan stands at or near the top in every comparative ranking. The Japanese have the world’s longest life expectancy and the best recovery rates from just about every major disease. Infant mortality is less than half the U.S. rate. Japan usually leads the world in rankings of “avoidable mortality” -its effectiveness in curing diseases that can be cured.
- T.R. Reid, Newsweek, August 16, 2010

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