“Workin’ For A Livin” [PART 2]: More On Finding Work In Okinawa

Finding work in Okinawa is always a hot topic among my readers and viewers. Everyone wants to know the key to getting into a solid position and starting a life on this beautiful island in southern Japan. Unfortunately the answers to these questions are not quite as cut and dry as I am sure people would prefer. Often times they change from year to year. . . sometimes even more frequently. In fact the last “Workin’ For A Livin” post that I made was in February of this year (2014) and things have already changed.

So what has changed and what has stayed the same? First and foremost let’s talk about what has stayed the same. For the most part there are still three main options for foreigners seeking employment here in Okinawa. These include being an English teacher, working for the US Government or being a contractor. Of course there are a number of other options for those with specialized skills and fluency in the Japanese language but we’re going to stick to the basics again in this post. What has changed are the technicalities and details that goes along with each option. I’ll go into the specifics in detail throughout this post.

The first thing I want to discuss is being an English teacher here in Okinawa. Working as an English teacher here is in some ways very similar to teaching English in other parts of the country although there are some distinct differences. These differences are centered around supply and demand. Here in Okinawa there is not a very high demand for English teachers because of the size of the island. There is also an endless supply of English speaking foreigners, thanks to the US Military presence, making it easy to fill positions. Companies also benefit from hiring military personnel because they do not require visa sponsorship, benefits and are often will accept what would otherwise be considered an unfair wage. So what has changed with English teaching? Although the number of English teaching jobs here in Okinawa has not increased in the past few months there have been a few changes that those seeking employment in this area might want to take note of. First is education. Although to get a visa teaching English in Japan you’ll need a BA many people have often got by without needing any degree in order to work as an English teacher here in Okinawa. Nowadays however this is stating to change. We are seeing many more English school requiring that people have at least a BA or BS. In a number of cases schools are also requesting that English teachers have specific teaching qualifications (including a degree in Education and/or teaching certifications) as well as experience teaching English as a second language. I’ve also noticed in recent months that some English schools are being much more particular about where their employees live. Some schools are even going so far as to turn down employees based on the fact that they live in an area that, according to the school, is too far away. This is actually something that has happened to me multiple times within the past 6 months. We’re not talking major distances either. Schools about 45 minutes away from my home, which are within what I consider a reasonable commute, have turned me down because I live what they feel is too far from the school.

The next area to discuss is working with the US Government. This used to be a fantastic option for Americans wanting to live in Okinawa because being home to over 30 US Military bases the island had quite a few options available. However, things have changed quite a bit. The US Government has definitely started to tighten their belt when it comes to hiring people who are not currently military spouses or active duty military members. There have also been a huge decrease in the number of jobs which offer visa status. This makes it tremendously difficult for someone who is not military or married to a military member to find a job with the US Government here in Okinawa. Requirements are also changing. More and more entry level jobs which have not required a degree for the past decade are now requiring a BA or certifications. These jobs include such areas as working at the commissary or as a tour guide. Others are requiring that their employees be bilingual in order to be considered. In my opinion this takes working for the US Government of the list as an employment option for those wanting to live in Okinawa because it’s just not feasible. Then again these things change so frequently that I may be singing a different tune here in the next few months.

Finally let’s take a moment to talk about becoming a contractor here in Okinawa. Not much has really changed in this area. It is still a trickily area because contract work can be unsteady and unreliable. However, overall there has been no major changes to how hit or miss getting a contracting job can be. You can read all about finding a job as a contractor in the original “Workin’ for a Livin” post.

LIke anywhere else Okinawa has it’s challenges and advantages when it comes to finding a job. In recent months I would definitely go so far as to say the challenges are outweighing the advantages. As always it takes a great deal of effort to find a job and Okinawa is no exception to that rule. At the end of the day, however, it is worth it to live on the beautiful island of Okinawa. . . . if that’s what you’re looking for.

Summer Update: What I’ve Been Up To & Why It’s Been Quiet

Things have been rather quiet here on the ONK Blog so far this summer and it hasn’t been without good reason. As most of you who have watched my videos in the past few months know the house that I was living in started quite literally falling apart. There were massive leaks, bug infestations and the ceiling starting collapsing.

In an attempt to resolve these issues we contacted the housing agency so that we could get a scheduled time for a maintenance crew to take a look at the house. This process alone, simply scheduling a date for them to come, took over 2 weeks. The reason was because the landlady didn’t want anyone working on the house other than her approved construction company. To boot the only way to arrange to have this approved company to our house was to first get in touch with the landlady who has no cell phone or landline. This meant that all requests and contact made to her had to be via Japan Post. . . . . snail mail. When the 2 weeks had finally passed we had a scheduled appointment for someone to take a look at the house. They came in and within about 10 minutes determined that there was a problem that needed immediate attention. This was then followed by 9 straight hours of construction work on the house.

When the construction crews finally left we were told that it could not be determined whether or not the house was safe to live in at this time and we wouldn’t know for at least another 2 weeks during which time the construction crews would be working 9 hour days removing rubble that had been falling from the ceiling for however many years. Of course I was not going to accept thing as an answer and informed the housing agency that they needed to find us a new place to live by the end of the weekend.

The weekend for me was horrible. Concrete dust that had filled my house made it difficult for me to breathe. I had a headache that lasted for days and I had begun to develop a cough. . . . only over 3 days. I had also not been sleeping because the house was so infested with bugs that we were literally waking up in the middle of the night because they were crawling on us of falling from the ceiling onto our begs. When at last Monday rolled around we had gone to the housing agency, this time with photographs and videos, to demand a new apartment. We also informed them that we would not be paying for repairs and/or cleaning fees as the house was currently being torn apart by a construction company. When the people at the housing agency saw the pictures they were disgusted. We had shown them piles of bugs that were gathering at parts of our house, the lines of them along the ceiling and of course the huge chunks of our roof that were now gone. Immediately they looked into our options which unfortunately was only one. That same day we went to look at the apartment and decided that we would be signing the paperwork.

We had to spend another week in our decaying house while preparations were made in the next one but it was a good opportunity to get everything in order so that we could prepare for the move. We did our best to gather all of our things, throw out what had become ruined because of the house (which was much more than we anticipated it would be) and then were on our way. We finally got our keys on Friday. The only problem was when we received our keys we were told that some of the things in the house (stove, air conditioners and fridge) might not be working properly. This would not have been a problem if we were told this prior to moving in but the housing agency kept this information from us until after we signed the contract.

Over the course of the next 4 days we slowly moved into our new apartment. It was a long and hard process to do on our own but we simply couldn’t afford to hire a moving company so we had to make due with what we had. Everything worked out well enough and finally we had everything moved in. Then we learned, the same day we moved all the cold items from the fridge, that it was not working. We called the housing agency and informed them that the fridge was not working and that we needed to have it repaired/replaced and we were swiftly told that if we needed it replaced we would have to replace it ourselves because the fridge, as well as all other items in the house, was not “part” of the house and therefore was not the responsibility of the owner. Of course this is not something that I was expecting. We were already having to pay out a number of bills because of a move that was out of our control and now we were going to have to purchase our own appliances. This was not good for our checkbook.

Pissed off and out of options I started looking for a fridge that we could purchase with our modest budget. We looked for something used but they were either too expensive or not what we were looking for. Then finally we decided that our only option was to go and buy something new. We went to every appliance store on the island and finally settled on a little fridge that was perfect for us and only about ¥20,000 which we could swing with our budget. The only catch is that it would take one week for it to be delivered.

The next week was one of the hardest I have ever had. Summer in Okinawa is bad enough but when you’re trying to survive without anything more than a cooler to keep food and drinks cold it is a huge challenge. We were eating mostly takeout and prepackaged foods which were making us both feel horrible because our diet usually consists of nothing but fresh foods. We were trying to get vegetables but because of the heat and humidity they would spoil in about a days time sitting on the counter in the kitchen. It was brutal. Then finally the fridge came. It was amazing! I was so happy that it arrived and I would not have to eat any more preserved pre packed junk. . . . . . . .

. . . . . . then it didn’t work. It wasn’t getting cold at all. In fact it was hotter in the fridge than it was in the house. It took us a few days to get the issue resolved because at the time there was a major typhoon coming through Okinawa. Nevertheless I marched over to the store and informed them that it was broken and it needed to be replaced. They were happy to replace it. . . . . but unfortunately there were no more in stock. I could either wait another 2 weeks to have one sent down from mainland or I could pick another fridge. The thought of living for another 2 weeks without a fridge made it feel like I was going to puke so I decided to go with the second option. . . . pick another fridge. The only downside to this option is that I would ultimately have to pay another ¥10,000 that I didn’t really have but it seemed totally work making financial sacrifices later.

It took another 6 days to get the new fridge delivered and to my delight it worked just fine. I cold finally start getting my life back together! At that point I had to start focusing quite a bit on the foods that we were eating and the money that we were spending. Our usual food budget runs us at about ¥1000 per day but that had gone up to about ¥3000 a day without a fridge. On top of that I was sick for about a week because my body was literally detoxing from all of the nonsense that I had been eating for the last 2 weeks. It was horrible.

Thrown in a typhoon, tropical storm and some other little hiccups and you’ve got yourself all caught up with where I am right about now. As you might imagine I didn’t have a whole lot of time to spend making videos or writing blog posts which is why there hadn’t been much up on the ONK side of the house.

So where are we going from here? I’ve got a new channel called YenniePincher that focuses on cooking videos. That posts new videos every Tuesday and Thursday. I also have an all new channel called Kitty Does Japan which is posting daily vlogs and other videos to come in the future as well. I will continue writing here but it might be a week or so before things get back into full swing as I learn how to juggle everything that I am doing right now.

Stay tuned and of course thank you for your support!

Mysteries of the Trash Can Revealed: How to separate and put out trash in Japan

One of the many things that baffle and bewilder foreigners who are new to Japan is the process of putting out trash. Unlike other countries Japan takes disposal of trash and recycling very seriously. How seriously you ask? Well. . . . here in Japan there are approximately 9 categories of trash. Each type of trash needs to be cared for differently and is collected on a different day (which varies based on where you live).

Although it sounds confusing the process of cleaning, sorting and disposing of trash is really rather simple. In today’s post we’re going to cover all of the bases and talk about everything you need to know to get your trash picked up!

Trash Bags 

There are two main types of trash bags used in Japan. The first is your city-designated trash bag. This is a bag that can be purchased from local convenience stores and supermarkets which is printed with a design and logo indicating what city the trash bags are designated for. These trash bags come in 3 different sizes (small, medium and large) which can be used to dispose of most types of trash.

The second type of trash bag is a simple clear bag. These can also be found at convenience stores and supermarkets in your area. These clear trash bags are used for recyclable items such as cans, bottles, plant materials and so on. These bags come in a wide variety of sizes.

You will notice that only clear trash bags are used in Japan. This is to prevent confusion and insure that the appropriate trash is being thrown out on the appropriate day. White and black trash bags are not considered acceptable in Japan and therefore will not be collected.

Pickup Schedule 

To ensure that trash is picked up in the most efficient way possible each city has designated pickup schedules. These schedules can be found on some city websites or can be inquired about at your local city/town office.

Although schedules vary based on your location trash tends to be picked up anywhere from 4 to 5 times a week. This includes 2 days for combustable trash, 1 to2 days for recyclables, 1 day for non-combustable trash and another day for plant materials.

Combustable Waste

The most common type of waste is combustable waste. Combustable waste is, much like the name suggest, trash that can be burned. This includes kitchen garbage, vinyl/plastic items, styrofoam trays, rubber/leather items, paper scraps, clothes, CDs and other similar items.

Combustable trash, which is usually picked up 2 times each week, must be disposed of using city-designated trash bags. These bags should have the ability to close securely. It is also important to note that you cannot exceed the number of trash bags designated for your area for one collection day. For example in my city the number of trash bags per collection day cannot exceed 6.

Non-Combustable Waste 

Trash that does not burn is considered non-combustable and needs to be separated from other combustable trash. These items include cups, dishes, broken bottles, kettles, umbrellas, metal products, small-sized electrical appliances, batteries, incandescent bulbs, hangers and other similer items.

Non-combustable trash needs to be disposed os using city-designated trash bags.These bags should have the ability to close securely. It is also important to note that you cannot exceed the number of bags designated for your each for one collection day. For example in my city the number of trash bags per collection day cannot exceed 6. Unlike combustable trash which is picked up twice a week non-combustable trash is only picked up every other week.

Plant Waste 

Any type of trash that consists of plant material such as grass, leaves, small twigs and logs is considered plant waste. There are two ways to dispose of plant waste. The first is to gather it up into clear plastic bags. The second is to bundle it. If you are bundling your plant waste it should be no more than 1m in length and properly secured.

It is important to keep in mind that wood which has been coated with preservatives, such as plywood or any other treated wood, is not considered recyclable and should be treated as combustable or large-sized waste. Like other types of trash you cannot exceed the designated number of bags per collection day.

Can/Bottle/Paper/Harmful Waste

Collected once each week are a variety of items to include what is known as harmful waste and also recyclables. Each of these items needs to be cared for and disposed of differently.

Cans made of aluminum or steel are to be rinsed out and put into a clear plastic bag. The same process is required for unbroken glass bottles.

Paper items are divided up into 5 separate categories including magazines, newspapers, cardboard, milk cartons and paper waste. Magazines, newspapers (including circulars) and cardboard are to be stacked and bundled using twine. Milk cartons (including cartons used for tea, juice and various types of sake) must be rinsed, dried, cut so that they are flat (instructions for this can be found on each carton). Once they are clean and dry then can be bundled. Finally is paper waste. This consists of paper used to make cake boxes, envelopes or packing paper. It is important to note that paper waste will not be collected on rainy days.

Finally is the category known as harmful waste. This consists of florescent tubes, mercury thermometers and lighters. These items should also be bagged separately in a clear plastic bag.

PET Bottles 

PET bottles, also known as plastic bottles, are a type of plastic bottle used widely throughout Japan. They have the familiar “recycle” logo with a number 1 and the letters PET located on the bottle. These PET bottles can be put in a clear plastic bag (either crushed or not) and are collected once every other week.

Large-sized Waste

Trash that is too bag for a city-designated trash bag or falls into a certain category is considered large-sized waste. These items require special attention and additional cost to dispose of. This includes items such as furniture, electronic pianos, bikes, window shades, tatami, carpet, futons, sheets, iron dumbbells, stoves, and oil heaters. 

To dispose of these items you will need to purchase special disposal tickets. These tickets can be purchased from convenience stores and supermarkets. Once the appropriate number of tickets has been purchased a reservation needs to be made to have your item picked up. This can be done by visiting your city office. Once the reservation date has been set ensure that you have your large item out on the curb by 8:00 (or the time designated by your city) on the collection day.

Items That Can’t Be Collected 

Like is the case anywhere else Japan also has a list of items that cannot be collected. These items include chemicals, fire extinguishers, compressed gas tanks, water tanks, motorcycles, tires, car batteries, pianos, automotive waste, TVs, refrigerators, washing machines, air conditioners, and personal computers. To have these items collected you will need to contact a private collection company.

Taking time to separate trash can sometimes seem very tedious. However, with a little bit of practice and this guide you should be a pro in no time! Also do not forget to visit your local city office for more detailed information about separating trash and trash collection schedules in your area.

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Lipton Japan: This ain’t your grandma’s tea!

This Ain't Your Grandma's Tea: Peach Tea

Tea is to Japan what apple pie is to the United States. There are few places around the country where you won’t find tea and even fewer people who don’t consume it at least twice a day. However, the tea here in Japan is not often like the tea that Americans, like myself, are familiar with. They tend to not be as sweet and lack the elaborate flavorings that you might find from a company like Arizona or Sobe. Of course there are always companies trying to boost sales with new and interesting teas that stand out about the rest. This is where Lipton Japan comes into the picture.

This Ain't Your Grandma's Tea: Shikwasa

Lipton, a tea company that most Americans are probably familiar with, has a decent size presence here in Japan despite focusing only on tea (unlike Coke, Kirin and other brands which also have juices, alcoholic beverages and more). They sell a variety of tea offerings here in Japan including three main types of containers to include cans, PET (plastic) bottles and cartons.

This Ain't Your Grandma's Tea: Orange Marmalade

In my household the favorite type of Lipton tea are the ones that come in a carton. They can be purchased for around ¥100 at local grocery or convenience stores and come in a variety of flavors. Like other companies in Japan it is not uncommon to find Lipton playing with different flavors and themes to include the most recent which is known as “Tea’s Travel” where they sample flavors from around the world.

This Ain't Your Grandma's Tea: American Tea Lemonade

This creative theme took consumers on a journey through places like Turkey with their “Turkey Apricot Tea” and London with their “Orange Marmalade Tea”. They even went to the good ole’ USA with “American Tea Lemonade”. Each tea is unique and features a distinct taste that is different from the next. Unfortunately all are only available for a limited time.

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There are many paths that lead to many exciting and interesting places on Okinawa. Lying relaxed and exhausted at the end of a recent path I had taken was Saburo a three legged dog who is surrounded by a whole lot of love!

I first learned about Saburo in March of this year (2014) while reading an article in the Ryukyu Shimpo, a popular Okinawa based newspaper. It was not the title that grabbed my attention but rather the photo of a joy filled puppy running along the beach. Unable to resist I clicked the link and started reading.

Saburo is far from an ordinary puppy and he has overcome far from ordinary circumstances. Once a stray Saburo was the victim of a hit and run last year which left him seriously injured. When Kiyoshi Oshiro, a nearby sabani (traditional Okinawan fishing boat) builder, heard the loud bang and Saburo cry out he did what he could to help the injured dog. With the loss of his rear left leg and a broken back local veterinarians told Mr Oshiro that Saburo didn’t have a chance of recovery. However, despite the professional opinion he was given, Oshiro didn’t accept this diagnosis and sold his very own sabani in order to cover the cost of Saburo’s surgeries which would ultimately save the dog’s life.

Saburo-kun: Miracle Dog - Itoman City Okinawa, Japan

Following the surgery, as one might expect, Saburo could not walk. This is where Tomoko and Kazukai Takara step in. This husband and wife team, who work along side Kiyoshi Oshiro, faithfully took Saburo for walks along the beach twice a day using a special harness to help support his lower back and remaining rear leg. Day after day they continued this rehabilitation until one day it finally happened. . . . Saburo’s rear leg started moving. The rehabilitation continued and now Saburo not only runs enthusiastically along the beach every day but also enjoys daily swims in the ocean.

The article, which reminded me of the good in the world, put a smile on my face. I shared it with a few of my dog loving friends and then, like sometimes newspaper articles do, it went out of my head. It wasn’t until months later when I spotted a sleepy three legged dog in the corner of a sabani workshop that I remembered of the article and exclaimed to the man who graciously was showing us around: “That’s Saburo!”

Immediately the room filled with love and the men, who just seconds ago were making a beautiful sabani by hand, came over to greet me and introduce Saburo. Kiyoshi Oshiro quickly informed Saburo that he had a visitor and that he should get up to greet me but the dog, who was clearly worn out from his early morning swim didn’t do much more than glance my direction and accept a belly rub.

Having the chance to meet Saburo was purely chance but I have to say I am very glad that the opportunity presented itself. He is such a wonderful dog who is surrounded by a whole lot of love!

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Fukushu-en Garden: Transported to China

There is an entire category of tourist that includes only people who prefer to stay off the beaten path and avoid cities at all cost. Unfortunately for these tourists they end up missing out on absolutely beautiful locations just like the one I am writing about today. Nestled in the center of Naha City’s hustle and bustle, just moments away from the types of hot spots this category of tourist is desperately trying to avoid, is the Fukushu-en Garden.

Fukushuen Garden: Waterfall - Okinawa, Japan

The Fukushu-en Garden is not what you would expect to find in Naha. In fact it’s more like the places that you would find off a nameless road of northern Okinawa. The wide open spaces, intricate architecture and free admission make this an oddity for central Naha to say the absolute least. Nonetheless Fukushu-en is the prefect place to transport you to Fukusyu City, a Chinese city that along with Naha flourished as a center of trade.

Built as a symbol of the friendship between the two cities Fukushu-en uses materials and architecture which was brought over directly from Fukusyu City. This not only makes the park look authentically Chinese but also makes it feel that was as well. It’s a challenge to describe but having been on Okinawa for as long as I have you can tell that what you’re looking at is distinctly foreign.

Fukushuen Garden: Bridge - Okinawa, Japan

Strolling through the Fukushu-en Garden is a very unique experience. The garden itself does not cover a notably large space but the use of the space is done so well that you feel as though you are covering much more ground than you actually are. Skillful placement of plants, stones and structures divide the park up into sections which make each area feel secluded from the next. This makes it possible to enjoy each of the distinctly different landscapes.

Fukushuen Garden: Tower & Pond - Okinawa, Japan

Making the most of your trip to the Fukushu-en Garden means taking it slow. Those who walk through the garden as though they are just trying to complete a chore are likely to miss most of the amazing things that the garden has to offer. The beautiful paintings, sculptures, plant life, and architecture shines brightest when you take a moment to really look at it and not just glance as you’re walking by. Taking that moment to stop, sit and enjoy a few sips of water in the gazebo near the pond is really all it takes to see the little gems hidden around this garden.

Although this garden is an absolutely beautiful place to visit it does have some minor downsides. The biggest downside to this garden is the combination of it’s free admission. This makes it incredibly appealing for tour groups who want to squeeze in another location at no extra cost to the business. This can sometimes mean that you find a lot of people pushing and running through the garden which ultimately makes it much less a pleasant experience than desirable. However this can be avoided by keeping some of these very basic tips in mind. If you find yourself arriving at the Fukushu-en gardens and there are tour busses outside take some time and explore the nearby park which is immediately across from the entrance. The park is beautiful and includes some historic sites as well. Then when the busses of tourists have passed stroll inside to enjoy your visit.

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Let’s Get Physical: Getting a Standard Medical Check-Up in Japan

Preventative medical care is incredibly important in the detection and early treatment of ailments. Few countries on the planet have a better grasp of this than the fine medical professionals of Japan. This is likely why each year people all over the country get a standard medical check-up or what we like to call a physical.

Unlike what most Americans are familiar with the standard medical check-up that the people in Japan receive is quite in depth and dare I even go so far as to say better. This in depth check-up include a long list of standard tests that include body measurements, ophthalmic exam, hearing test, lung function test, circularity organ test, urine test, fecal exam, hematological test, liver function test, pancreatic function test, sugar metabolism test, lipid test, immunological test, renal function test, gout test, chest X-ray, stomach X-ray and abdominal ultrasound. There is also a long list of optional tests that you can choose from. This includes but is not limited to gender specific tests such as prostate exam and mammograms.

Because the idea of getting your very first standard medical check-up in Japan can undoubtably be intimidating and at times confusing I have decided to outline all of the information you need to know in this post. We will cover everything that you need to know from the moment you make your appointment to the moment you get back home. The only thing that I ask of those reading this is to understand that information may vary slightly based on the medical facility that you visit. However the goal of this post is to provide you with the information you need in order to feel comfortable with the process.

Making Your Appointment

The process of making an appointment for your standard medical check-up will vary based on the company that you work for and the medical facility that you choose to attend. In some cases you will have the ability to simply call the medical facility’s reservation hotline whereas in others your company will take care of the reservation for you.

Upon making your reservation/appointment you will be given a list of standard test (listed above) and you will be asked whether or not you would like to receive any of the optional tests. Once you have informed the medical facility of your requests you will then be given a date and time for your appointment and a packet of information.

What is Included in the Medical Packet

A few days before your appointment  you will receive a medical packet in the mail. This medical packet will include a pamphlets with information about your standard medical check-up, urine test kit and fecal test kit. Because the medical facility we used was aware that we were English speakers we received all of the information in English. However, there were some areas which were challenging to understand if you have no Japanese language ability. We will discuss all of that information later in this post.

What Information is Required By You

In your medical packet you will receive a number of forms that will need to be filled out. Much like any other medical examination you will provide information about yourself, medical history and concerns via checking boxes on the form. If you are a female you will be asked for information regarding your last menstrual cycle and any pregnancies (suspected or otherwise). You will also be asked to provide information about your family history including parents, grandparents and siblings. Again this is very simple and done by checking a box. Finally you will be asked to answer questions regarding your lifestyle such as whether or not you smoke and/or drink and how often.

Special Information Regarding Stomach X-ray

One of the standard tests performed is a stomach X-ray. This test requires the use of barium, a milky substance that is consumed at the time of the exam, which helps show the stomach lining. This test is used to find abnormalities in the stomach, esophagus and duodenum such as cancer, ulcers, polyps and so on. During this X-ray you will also be given a shot which stops the movement of the stomach allowing a clear X-ray image to be taken.

Although this process is based on the guidelines of the Japanese Society of Gastroenterological Cancer Screening there are some risks that the medical facility will want to make you aware of. This includes the potential of minor symptoms such as nausea, stomachache, constipation, diarrhea or pain in the stomach region. There is also the chance of fever or allergic reaction. Very rare cases also cause internal obstruction, perforation and appendicitis. Once you read through the release form and fully understand the information that has been provided to you then you will sign indicating that you would like to have this X-ray taken.

How to Collect Your Urine Sample

Collecting a urine sample with a Japanese urine sample kit is slightly different from what I think most Americans are familiar with. Rather than a small cup that can be urinated into directly you will receive a plastic disposable container, tube with a screw cap and single use dropper. After properly cleaning yourself to ensure that there is no contamination you will then urinate into the disposable container and then use the single use dropper to fill the tube with a screw cap.

*Urine sample should be collected the day of your exam in the morning immediately after you wake up.

How to Collect Your Fecal Sample 

Collecting a fecal sample isn’t quite as straight forward as collecting a urine sample. Your fecal sample kit will include three pieces all of which will come to you sealed; 2 rectangular tubes and 1 flushable/disposable “toilet” or “Toreru Paper” (トレールパーパ).  When you are ready to collect your fecal sample put 3 or 4 layers of toilet paper on the surface of the water in your toilet bowl. Then place the “Toreru Paper” (トレールパーパ) over the top of it. Finally dedicate in the “Toreru Paper” (トレールパーパ).

Immediately after you will need to collect your sample. You do this with the small rectangular tubes. The first thing you need to do is twist and remove the cap. You will notice that the cap is attached to a small wand. The very tip of the wand is ribbed. This is the area that needs to be covered in fecal matter in order to have a proper sample. Carefully run the wand along the feces to collect your sample. Be careful not to collect to much as too much will result in the inability to be tested. Carefully insert the wand back into the remaining part of the tube and twist the cap to lock. Store this in a cool dark place until the time of your appointment.

Finally write all of the necessary information on the tube. You will need to put your name (名前), whether you are a man (男) or woman (女), and then the date which is the year (年) month (月) and day (日 ).

*Do not use a gel pen when writing your information. It will smudge.

The Night Before and the Morning Of Your Check-Up

Now that you have filled out all of the necessary forms and collected all of the necessary samples it’s time to consider what need to be done before your exam. The day before your check-up you will be asked to ear a light dinner and ensure that you have finished eating my 9:00PM with no drinking after 10:00PM. You will be asked not to consume alcohol the day before your check-up.

On the morning of your exam you are asked to continue fasting and do not eat breakfast, snacks or drink any water/tea. You will also be asked to refrain from smoking the morning of the exam. Those who take medications in the morning are also asked to ensure that they take them with only the smallest amount of water necessary proper to 6:30AM.

Other Important Information

Women who are menstruating cannot have certain exams performed. If you happen to be menstruating during the time of your scheduled exam you may want to reschedule. Women who are pregnant, may be pregnant or are receiving fertility treatments are required to speak with their doctor prior to this check-up as it is not possible to have an X-ray taken.

Those taking medication should speak with their doctor prior to scheduling a check-up and ask whether or not the check-up is possible and safe. Any medications you are taking should be brought with you to your appointment.

Let's Get Physical #2

Now that you have an understanding of what is required before your standard medical check-up it’s time to talk about what to expect when you arrive at the medical facility. Like most other things in Japan medical facilities are held to high standards. You will find that they not only offer quality but also comfort for the guests. This is refreshing especially for someone like myself who is not very fond of medical facilities in general.

Once checking in for your appointment you will give the attendant all of the paperwork that you filled out in your medical packet and samples as well as your insurance card. At this particular you did not receive your insurance card back until the end of the appointment. This may vary from medical facility to medical facility. At this time you will also select one of two lunch options which will be made available to you free of charge (this is part of the standard medical check-up package).  You will then have to sign your name down next to a number. This number is how you will be referred to during your exam.

Once you have completed the check in process you will be directed to a locker room. The locker room is where you will change out of your street clothes and store your belongings. Each locker, which includes a key so that you can ensure your belongings are safe, is numbered and has a size on the outside. This size refers to the garnets that are inside. After choosing a locker with the appropriate size change into your top, bottoms and slippers. You can leave undergarments on however it’s probably a good idea for women to be cautious about the bras (because of metal clasps and underwires). A sports bra or light support garment may be a better choice than a your regular bra.

Let's Get Physical #1

After changing you will then return to the waiting room and wait to be called to the reception desk. You will then be handed a folder with all of your information inside which you will take with you while the tests are being completed.

When the testing begins you, as well as a small group of other guests, will be guided to a series of rooms. Each room is numbered with the number indicating a certain test that is part of the check-up. A coordinator will direct you to the appropriate room so that you and everyone else can efficiently complete the required tests.

Most of the tests are pretty straight forward with the most challenging being the stomach X-ray. Before beginning this particular exam you will be given barium which is a cider powder coupled with a liquid that tastes like watered down chalk. During this exam you will be required to consume the liquid on command as prompted by the technician. At first you will take some slow sips and finally finish when told. Then, like some type of carnival ride, the platform you are standing on will begin to rotate while you hold yourself in place with two wars and a shoulder restraint. This will allow the technician to take detailed images of your stomach. Once you have completed this exam you will be given a laxative and a series of instructions. Because barium is not digested by the body it needs to be passed so that there are no complications. Couple this laxative with some healthy veggies and lots of water and you will have no problems.

Let's Get Physical #2

Once all of the tests have been completed you will then return to the reception desk and inform then that you have completed the tests. They will then direct you to return to the locker room and change before proceeding to where your lunch will be served.

This particular lunch was fish with mushroom miso and a daikon salad. There was also whole grain oats and rice, sesame salad, pickled egg plant, custard and mochi for desert. The lunch came with a detailed description of everything that you were eating as well as a calorie count. This meal was only 660kcal. Unlike what you would expect from hospital food this meal was absolutely delicious. The ingredients were fresh, prepared well and could have easily been from a typical Japanese restaurant.

Finally after lunch it was time to return to the floor where the testing took place and have a consultation with a doctor. At this time the tests were gone over in basic, easy to understand, terms. You will also be informed that a detailed packet or results and other information will be sent to your home within the next 30 days.

Although it can be intimidating to do anything medical related in a place where your native language is not the one that the medical professionals are speaking this medical facility did a great job ensuring English speaking foreigners were in the loop and aware of what was happening. Although none of the technicians or doctor spoke more than basic conversational English they were capable of explaining information about the tests being given and the results.

Overall the experience was a pleasant one, despite the very unpleasant associations that many people have when they hear “doctor”. Each one of the technicians and members of the staff were friendly, helpful and willing to go above and beyond to ensure you know what to do next. Most important to me is that the whole experience is comfortable.

Have you ever had a standard medical check-up in Japan? Share your experiences in the comments below.