Getting There and Around
Practical advice for Japan healthcare and wellness travel
Japan has one of the most modern and reliable infrastructures in the world. Trains and planes are known for their punctuality and depart frequently in urban areas. While there are fine hospitals and clinics throughout the country, most of the “foreigner friendly” places are located in urban centers.
Tokyo, Yokohama, Kawasaki, Chiba and Saitama combine to form the largest megalopolis, while Osaka, Kobe and Kyoto comprise the next-largest urban conglomerate. Other large urban areas with major medical centers are Sapporo and Sendai (in the north), Nagoya (between Tokyo and Osaka) and Fukuoka on the southern island of Kyushu.
Specialist centers can be found in various areas across the country, sometimes outside of the densely populated urban areas.
While many people in Japan do speak English and other languages, there are fewer bilingual people than you will find in places like Malaysia or Singapore. This can be a frustrating point of traveling in Japan, but what some people lack in language ability they make up for in hospitality.
Japan is one of the safest places on the planet. Men and women walk at all times of day and night with few incidents. Stories abound of people forgetting their wallets and having them returned with contents intact. Nevertheless, you should take always take common-sense precautions.
Airports and Transportation
Most people will fly into one of the two international airports in Tokyo. Narita is located about an hour away by train or bus from the city’s center, while Haneda is just 15 to 30 minutes away from the major centers of town. There are several train services from both airports as well as buses and taxis.
Osaka is the next most popular international gateway, with passengers arriving at Kansai International Airport, which is housed on a technical marvel of a manmade island in the middle of the ocean. Travel time from Kansai International Airport to Kobe, Osaka and Kyoto ranges from 40 minutes to 1.5 hours by train. Buses, ferries and taxis provide alternatives depending on your destination and budget.
The train system in Japan is extensive and can be overwhelming at first. You can get virtually anywhere on a train, and they almost always run on time. The following site provides specific routes and costs for trains across Japan.
If you plan to travel extensively, HealthyIM recommends getting a Japan Rail Pass, which provides access to the bullet train (although not the Nozomi, which is the fastest option), JR lines, buses and ferries for a very reasonable package price. The rail pass is only available for nonresidents of Japan, and must be purchased before arrival. For reference, the seven-day rail pass costs a bit more than one round-trip ticket on the bullet train from Tokyo to Osaka. If you plan to travel around, this is a great value.
Details can be found at the following site:
Taxis are used often in Japan, but can be very expensive. Many people tend ride them for shorter trips from a station to a specific location or when the trains stop around midnight.
You can rent cars at the airport and near many of the major stations. Rentals require an international drivers license and a credit card. Please keep in mind that parking in the city, while readily available, can be costly. In general, rental cars are a reasonable alternative when traveling outside of the cities. Cars drive on the left hand side of the road and there are a lot of narrow streets to navigate. If you do choose to drive, we highly recommend using a navigation system.
One excellent free navigation application is Waze.
Buses are a low-cost way to get around, and are frequent and abundant in the cities. Figuring out which buses to take where can be a bit of a challenge, however.
Japan has hotels and other accommodations to meet all budgets. Please consider a location convenient to your medical or wellness facility.
Cellphones and Wi-Fi
Cellphone roaming service is available in Japan, but it tends to be more expensive than in other parts of Asia. Check with your carrier at home about availability and cost. It is not possible to purchase SIM cards or pay-as-you-go phones, but you can easily rent a phone or “portable Wi-Fi” at the international airports.
Free Wi-Fi is less prevalent than in other countries, so if your IT needs are above average we recommend renting a portable Wi-Fi or cellphone. That said, one of the country’s leading communications companies, NTT, has begun offering cards that give travelers in Japan 336 hours of free Wi-Fi service.
There are more Michelin-starred restaurants in Tokyo than in Paris. Food from around the world is available, and cheap eats abound. Noodles generally run from US$3 to $10. A reasonable sushi lunch or dinner costs between $10 and $50. Lunches at famous restaurants tend to be a fraction of the price of the dinner menus and are a favorite of those in the know. This is not a country of rock-bottom prices, but you should be able to find something you like within your budget.
A word on hospital food:
While Japanese food is ordinarily outstanding and offers fresh ingredients, flavors and textures, hospital food tends to be bland and unimaginative. Some maternity clinics pride themselves on their French or Japanese menus, but they tend to be the exception.
Travel and Sightseeing
Japan spans the whole tourism spectrum from urban ultramodern to charmingly ancient—sometimes in the same block—lush nature to the highest of tech, and diverse recreational, culinary and cultural attractions. Here are some informative sites for tourists considering a journey to Japan:
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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