Trying to get medical attention when there is no mutual language of communication isn't a whole lot different than taking your pet to the veterinarian. You might as well just say "meow" or "woof woof". For those who speak neither Japanese or English, that can be quite a problem indeed. We will assume, however, that anyone reading this article can at least communicate in English.
Here in Tsukuba, we are fortunate to have a number of medical personnel who can handle English quite adequately. So in this article, we will introduce the "Alien Times Recommendations", a list of medical personnel who can communicate in English. This does not imply, of course, that those not mentioned aren't any good or can't communicate in English ­p;­p; just that we don't know about them. We would be most happy to add other recommendations as we receive the information.
First, a brief overview of the medical system. The major hospitals in Tsukuba all have doctors who can speak English, although there is no way of knowing whether one will be on duty when you need help. Any Japanese doctor will, of course, know English words that he or she can at least write out even if they can't pronounce them clearly. And that is something to remember in any situation when you need to communicate with a Japanese who can't understand what you are saying. Write in out simply and legibly. They've had years of English education centering on translating English into Japanese.
Even when going to a hospital or clinic where the doctor speaks English well, however, it is a good idea to have a Japanese speaking friend go along with you to help with the somewhat complicated admission or registration procedures ­p;­p; especially if it's the first time to go there. Finding a receptionist who speaks good English is rare find indeed.
In addition to language problems, another feature of the Japanese medical system that causes foreigners problems is the usually long waits involved. Expect to spend a considerable amount of time waiting in the lobby first to get in to see the doctor and then to get any medication the doctor prescribes. Take along some good reading material and be patient (after all, that is what you are ­p;­p; a patient!). If you have Japanese medical insurance, be sure to take along your "hokensho" (medical card), or you may have to pay the full amount.
There are 5 main hospitals in Tsukuba, all of which have "Tsukuba" as part of their name. Thus, it's important (especially if you're trying to tell a taxi driver which hospital you want to go to) to keep them straight! Ending up at the wrong "Tsukuba" hospital is a distinct possibility if you're not careful about the name.
The largest is the University of Tsukuba Hospital ("Daigaku Byoin"), on the southwest corner of the campus. They have a large outpatient section, but it is usually very crowded, and we don't recommend going there directly. Most patients who go there (especially if they are being admitted to the hospital itself) are referred to them by doctors in local clinics.
Most foreigners end up going to the Tsukuba Medical Center ("Tsukuba Medicaru Senta"), which is located just down the street from the University Hospital in Amakubo (next to Matsumi Park). This is basically your only choice at night or on holidays. They are typically crowded (but so is most anyplace). The doctors rotate duty days, so if you need to go in more than once, you may not see the same doctor. The staff there is pleasant and tries to be helpful. If you can go on a Monday morning, there are volunteer translators on duty to help you in anyway they can. As is true with most hospitals or clinics, one is served in order, according to a sign-in sheet. The Medical Center takes this a step further by having a number that can be drawn on a first-come first-served basis after 8 am. The actual processing, however, doesn't start until 8:30.
Other hospitals that may serve your needs but which aren't so frequented by foreigners are the Tsukuba Gakuen Hospital in Yatabe (just north of the agricultural research institutes), the Tsukuba Kinen (Memorial) Hospital just north of the Geographical Survey Institute on Nishi Odori in Higashi Hiratsuka, and the Tsukuba Hospital behind the Mechanical Engineering Laboratory in Namiki.
Most of your health needs can be taken care of more conveniently in the variety of local clinics that dot the landscape. There are too many to cover in a comprehensive manner, and so we will only list the most highly recommended ones that we are aware of, based on service and English proficiency. Some are rather difficult to find, as many are located off of the main roads (the only roads with names), and so we will do our best to describe how to get there.
Jinai Clinic (Onozaki); Dr. Ko is from Taiwan and speaks good English in addition to Chinese and Japanese. His specialties are pediatrics and internal medicine, and one particularly convenient aspect of this clinic is that it is open on Saturday and Sunday mornings! It is, however, closed on Fridays. The clinic is tricky to find, though, as it is located at the edge of Matsushiro as it borders with the Onozaki rice paddies. Approaching it from Matsushiro, go to the end of the 4 lane road that is the natural extension of Minami Odori (going east). Turn left at the last street and then a quick right at the next street. It's around the bend on the right (Tel. 55-4577).
Watanabe Clinic (Namiki); Dr. Watanabe is a popular doctor whose specialties are pediatrics and the respiratory system. He is located at the east edge of Namiki at Namiki 3-11-9. If you approach the clinic from the Namiki Ohashi Bridge over Higashi Odori, it is a block to the right from where that street (the main street through Namiki) dead ends.
Arita Skin Clinic (Onozaki); Dr. Arita speaks good English and she is really outstanding in her field (along with her farming neighbors who are often out standing in their fields as well!). About the only problem you'll encounter is trying to find her clinic for the first time. It is surrounded by rice paddies on one of those narrow, windy roads that crisscross them. If approaching from the center of Tsukuba, cross Nishi Odori one light to the north of Minami Odori (second light south of Tsuchiura-Gakuen Sen). If you follow this road all the way around, it comes out again at the McDonald's on Tsuchiura-Gakuen Sen. Don't, however, go that far. Going west from Nishi Odori, turn left at the first street (just before the road bends to the right). Follow that road for about 100 meters to the first narrow cross road. Turn right, and go past the bamboo thickets to where the rice paddies are on both sides of the road. Turn left at the second road and then back to the right again at the first road. Straight ahead, you will see a group of houses. The clinic is the second building of that group. (It is, by the way, only about 300 meters north of the Jinai Clinic listed above). The Arita Clinic is closed on Thursdays and Sundays as well as Tuesday and Saturday afternoons, and unlike most clinics that start at 9 am, Dr. Arita doesn't start until 9:30. (tel. 55-4266).
Ueno Clinic (Onozaki); Like the other clinics in Onozaki, this clinic is likewise located off the beaten path. The best way to find it is to take the road connecting Doho Park and Matsushiro (the one Hanamasa Meat Pavilion is located on). A short ways past the first light west of Nishi Odori is a Jomo gas station and a Family Mart convenience store. Turn right at the road between the two, and proceed up that for about 400 meters to where the road divides in a "Y". The clinic is located at the "Y" among the usual fields. It is closed on Thursdays and Sundays.
Shoji Clinic (Yatabe); Most foreign women who have their babies in Tsukuba go to the husband and wife team at Shoji clinic. Both Dr. Shojis speak excellent English, with one handling babies in the womb through birth and then the other taking over from there. About the only down side of the Shoji Clinic is its location, quite some distance from the center of Tsukuba. It is located near Yatabe High School just north of the Joban Expressway. To get there by car, proceed west on Tsuchiura-Noda Sen past the Yatabe Branch City Hall. Turn left at the next light (going uphill). Proceed along that road as it bends sharply to the right and through town. It's on the right about 1 km down that road. (Tel. 36-0405)
Mitsui Clinic; There are 3 clinics on the 4th floor of the Mitsui Building, including the Mitsui Orthopedic Clinic. (There is also an internal medicine clinic and a skin clinic that are pretty decent.) Dr. Yoshida seems to be pretty accurate in his diagnoses, and we haven't heard any complaints. The clinic is closed Thursdays and Sundays, and like most clinics has rather long lunch breaks (in this case, come before 12:30 or wait until after 3:30!). (Tel. 56-5050). An unusual feature of all three clinics there is that they don't dispense any medicine there. You have to take a prescription down to the second floor to a separate pharmacy and wait there for your medicine (which you pay for separately).
Inoue Shika (Umezono); Most foreigners in Tsukuba use Dr. Inoue's services as he does good work and can communicate in English. It is somewhat easier to find than most of the other clinics mentioned above, but since it likewise is on a nameless street, the only address we can give you is the district style address (Umezono 2-14-14). To get there, go west on the road just south of the Namiki Ohashi Bridge over Higashi Odori. Turn left at the third street. It is about 4 blocks down on the left. (tel. 51-6226).
If the clinics listed above don't meet your needs, there are many others around. Ask someone at work or a friend that's been around awhile. But better yet, don't get sick! Stay healthy!
TsukuBlog is a daily blog for the foreign residents of the city of Tsukuba in Ibaraki, Japan. It is a sister site to Alien Times. It includes up-to-date information on events, news, living in Japan, Japanese culture, and more.
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