Japanese Medicine

This morning, I fell into an unfortunate conversation. I was chatting with a fellow about this and that when he somehow decided that I was the sort of chap who might like to hear about his medical history. He told me of his recent aches and pains in the kind of laborious detail that eventually leaves one slightly threadbare on appropriate facial reactions, and then finished up with, ‘And that’s the last time I go to a Japanese doctor!’

I wasn’t sure what to say. You see, I have heard many a complaint about Japanese doctors and their lack of expertise but I have yet to experience any particularly noteworthy examples of incompetence. Granted, I have been fortunate in not having any great illnesses to deal with, but any time I have visited a Japanese doctor it has been a simple and painless experience. I have received advice, sometimes medicine, and have gone on to make a full and speedy recovery. My father-in-law has been hospitalized several times in the last few years and I have always been extremely pleased with the level of care and attention he has received. I have had no complaints in well over a decade here and yet I have heard this mistrust in Japanese medicine on more than a few occasions. I wonder why it is so.

I have no doubt that those complaining about their experiences feel aggrieved and may very well have grounds to do so, but to then claim you will never see another Japanese doctor again is, to be frank, ridiculous. Japanese doctors aren’t rubbish; your one was. Last year my mother was taken poorly and received questionable advice from a doctor in the UK. Neither I nor she entertained the idea for a moment that UK healthcare is beyond hope and that she should emigrate immediately. No, she sought care from another British doctor and was pleased with the outcome. Sad as it is to consider, it is a fact that some doctors are better than others.

Japan is a developed nation. It has a high standard of health care. It has the highest longevity of life in the world and to label its health system as poor because you didn’t appreciate your individual doctor’s bedside manner is silly. The thing you have to remember is he or she is a doctor. You, most likely, are not. So, even if he or she is lacking in some of the finer points of medicine, it is unlikely that you are better versed. Yes, in spite of extensive Internet research.

It is sad when we feel we have not received good service. It is worrying when we feel doctors aren’t up to scratch. But to label all doctors in this country as poor on the evidence of one or two consultations is no different than Japanese establishments mistrusting all foreigners because they had a bad one a few years ago. I am not the same as a gaijin tit who causes mayhem because he has has to pay a service charge in a bar. I hope I am not a teacher who doesn’t give a fuck about his students and I certainly don’t want to be prejudged as such based on the merits of a predecessor.

Yes, some Japanese doctors are shit. But so are some doctors in every country in the world. In music, One Direction are shit but if you refused to listen to English music based solely on their output you would miss out on The Beatles, The  Rolling Stones, The Kinks, David Bowie, The Who and some of the best the world has known. But nobody gives up on a country’s music because they hear one bad song. That would be stupid.

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9 Responses to Japanese Medicine

  1. Kathryn says:

    My sister had a pretty severe medical complaint and was told by a Japanese doctor that it was all in her head. When we got to back to Australia, her doctor here confirmed it was urgent and she had surgery within a few weeks. But she said the same thing, you get bad doctors everywhere – although she did think the language barrier (ie. he didn’t want to admit he had issues speaking English) had something to do with it.

    Where I think the Japanese system falls down is that apparently (according to Japanese friends) it’s considered an insult to the doctor to ask for a second opinion and there is still the feeling that the doctor is god.

    • Yes, I’d agree with that. People here generally don’t like to question the doctor and that of course can be a bad thing. I know people who have had bad treatment here, but I know people who have had bad treatment at home, too. But the second opinion thing does annoy me because I think many people don’t want to get one even when they feel they should.

  2. G says:

    I think this can be broadened to encompass to such statements like “Japanese people are…” Yes there are statistics and trends, but you can never use these to prejudge a person. It sounds cheesy, but everybody is different, regardless of nationality.

    Being a foreigner in Japan I have often ran into cases where I am designated as the representative of my entire country, so, for example when praised for my consistent punctuality, I myself was not praised, but rather the comment was made “Wow, British people are really punctual.” Equally, I once worked with a Canadian who was often late for work and so the comments made by staff were “It seems Canadians are a lazy people.” This stuff gets me down 😦

  3. Jim says:

    My wife and I have, unfortunately had a lot of experience with hospitals and doctors here. On one occasion a misdiagnosis led to some potentially serious complications, but in every other experience I have had nothing but effusive praise to offer: I and my family have received impeccable care for things ranging from the flu to kidney stones to surgery to birthing a child. The doctors have been efficient, solicitous and professional and the nurses have been angelic in the level of care they offer.

    My experience with hospital care in the US, on the other hand, was frustrating, humiliating and mind-numbingly expensive. Give me Japanese medical care any day of the week, friend.

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