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Texas ISD School Guide
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Travel, Teach, Live in Japan

Colds in Japan
By:Tom Aaron

Some Americans in Japan don't go to the doctor's if they have a cold. Japanese eyes grow as they remark on this to other Japanese and ask other Americans why not. My reply, which is you need seven days to get well if you take cold medicine and a week if you do not, meets with blank looks.

When I first started going to the doctor's in Japan, visiting a doctor and getting medicine for a cold was substantially cheaper than going to a pharmacy and buying over the counter cold medicine that was much weaker. You would see your doctor and the receptionists would give you your medicine. After some years, due to a government push to reduce medicine sales by having medications purchased at pharmacies, not from doctor's offices, pharmacies sprang up like mushrooms next to doctor's offices. Prices seemed to me to have increased.

Now, going to a pharmacy and buying cold medicine could be cheaper, but people are accustomed to going to the doctor. Some doctors offer appointments but many doctors do not. Being able to stop at the doctor's whenever you want is tremendously convenient, but spending three hours for a three-minute visit with the doctor is not. Timing your visit is important. Many larger hospitals with specialists attract an older crowd. Go in the morning, with or without an appointment, and the wait can be endless. Go in the afternoon, with or without an appointment and you can see a specialist, pay, get your prescription, pick up your medication at the pharmacy in the same building, and be on your way in an hour if all goes well.

At smaller doctor's offices, especially those that see many children, the mornings can be very busy, but when there are no colds going around the offices can be empty. If you go in on a busy morning, you may have a long wait. Doctor's are generally open in the morning, stop for lunch, and then open again in the afternoon. If you go in the morning and the doctor's office is crowded, you can often write your name down for the afternoon slot and be seen quickly if you arrive first thing in the afternoon. Another way to be seen quickly is to go early in the morning before the doctor opens, go in the office, and write your name on the list. Yes, the office is open even though nobody is there. Know the system and act to avoid waiting for hours and hours.

Over the years the number of pharmacies selling prescription medicine has ballooned. The government has encouraged this direction to discourage doctors from over prescribing medicines, resulting in a pharmacy next to or across the street from many doctor's offices. Each small pharmacy, primarily serving the patients of the doctor next door or across the street, usually has between two and four people working in the pharmacy at any one time.

Japanese, like Americans, believe in hand washing to prevent colds, but there are at least four major differences: masks, gargling, carrying on to show their fighting spirit and not burdening others, and IV (intravenous) cocktails.

In Japan you will frequently see people wearing surgical masks due to colds. Some of them are wearing masks to protect themselves against the germs that give them colds, while others have colds and are wearing masks so they don't give their colds to others. Unrelated to colds, many people with allergies wear masks to protect themselves from allergens. The masks may or may not be effective and the placebo effect may or may not work. Either way, a Hello Kitty surgical mask on an elementary school student is a sight that one does not forget quickly.

Japanese also swear by gargling to prevent colds and to get better quickly when you do have a cold. Some doctors argue that gargling with water is useless, but gargling with green tea protects people from colds. Whenever anything is health related, the green tea lobby is always nearby to promote the real or imaginary health benefits.

People in Japan who have colds are not entitled to time off. They must go to work or school, carrying on to show their fighting spirit and not burdening others. Nobody discourages them from going to work or school and little attention is paid to the colds they spread. With chicken pox or measles, of course, people do stay home. Schools actually keep track of the number of days students miss; students who are not absent for an entire year are commended. Some students even go to junior high or high school for three years without missing a day and receive an award. Some of the students who go to school with raging fevers may be after such awards.

The last of the four major differences I will discuss here is the IV cocktail, full of all sorts of nutrients and other wonderful things, guaranteed to speed your recovery. Get a cold, go to the doctor, and get an IV. That will put the bounce back in your step. Some doctors don't always offers IVs to people who have a cold, but if you really want one, just ask the doctor. The doctor will usually oblige.

At Aaron Language Services ( http://aaronlanguage.com/english_sushi_page.htm ), we provide Japanese to English and other translation, proofreading, and online English coaching to a primarily Japanese client base. Our site also offers many resources to ESL students, including Japanese language support and our sushi pages with many pictures of different kinds of sushi and explanations.

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