What to Use When You’re Sick in Japan





As the title of this blog entry indicates, I had been struggling with a bug that has just about left my system. Despite it going away pretty fast, this cold caused a fair amount of trouble for me, but because of it I learned new ways on how to take care of something as simple as a cold. My use of “new” in this sense is not as though buying medicine and taking it easy were things I did not know, but I learned that Japan has different ways of handling colds compared to the US. Here’s a few tips I gained from exploring, researching, and asking friends and employees on how to actually deal with my cold:

1) Surgical Masks

I had some knowledge on these before coming to Japan, but I did not quite understand how common they really were to wear on a day-to-day basis, especially when you are sick. Unless you have something drastic like a fever, you are expected to continue with your daily routine of work or school. So, for the respect of others, wearing these white little masks are necessary to cover your mouth and nose to prevent germs being spread. Luckily I bought a package of these my first week here, so I began using them right away and continued wearing them every day of the week, all day long (just until my cough began to go away). Although they are a bit uncomfortable to wear at first, they’re easy to get used to, cheap, and very convenient.

2) Vitamin Drinks/Cough Drops

Until I could go to a pharmacy to buy medicine, I had to make do with some other alternatives. Convenience and grocery stores in Japan are pretty limited on their medicine, but they do carry items to use when you’re feeling under the weather. For the first couple of days or so, along with my daily breakfast I would take a bottle of this vitamin C energy drink (which is about the size of those orange prescription bottles) to help with my cold. Cough drops are sold at these locations as well, and they’re actually quite yummy compared to cough drops in the US (a favorite of mine to have was lemon-honey flavored— I always kept a pack of them in my coat pocket).

3) Cold Medicine

This was undoubtedly the biggest struggle I had this week in terms of my sickness. Despite the rest, the vitamin c and the cough drops, I was still coughing like crazy and had chest pain. I was well aware that I needed to buy cough medicine, but where and how I did not know. After talking to my program advisor about it, she told me that I needed to go to a medicine shop (kusuri no mise) or a pharmacy and ask specifically for cough medicine. Eventually I went into a small pharmacy, and with the help of the employees (that went from one helping me to three or four, all having their phones out to translate the label warnings), I had successfully bought the medicine. Even though I was afraid to use it at first because, unlike US cough medicine, this was a powder, and I was worried that I had bought some kind of extreme cough medicine (this was also because the medicine was more expensive than I expected— ~$15), it definitely did its job.


For the past week I carried these items with me at all times. I couldn’t have gotten better without them!