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.

 

30th PEACEFUL LOVE ROCK FESTIVAL


This weekend was the 30th anniversary of the Peaceful Love Rock Festival (PLRF) here on Okinawa. If you are not familiar PLRF is the biggest rock and roll event on island which is hosted each year on the first weekend in July. This two day event is unlike any other on Okinawa. Local bands who set the stage for rock and roll here on Okinawa are featured as well as some other bands from around the country. The event is also family friendly (for the most part) and ton of fun! This year is a tradition for many music enthusiasts on the island and we are no exception. This year, however, because of prior obligations we chose to only attend one day which turned out fine because our favorite (and soon to be favorite) bands were playing on Saturday (the day we chose to attend). Let’s go over some of the talent.

伊舎堂さくら

The first band to perform was a new artist who I have spoken about before in other posts. She is a 13 year old who has always had the dream of performing at the PLRF since she was 5 years old. To be completely honest I was not skeptical of this young girl when I first read the article but she did blow me away seeing her live. We knew that she was going to be a good performer because she made it through the audition but I had anticipated she would be on stage singing with the band and it would be a great accomplishment and a good performance. Nope, I stand corrected. Not only was this girl a good singer BUT she was also doing it while playing the drums. . . yes that’s right what a talent! She told her story which was very cool but then she tells it again, in perfect English. Is there anything that this girl can’t do? Of course she has a lot of years ahead of her and I am sure that this means she will only improve and achieve greatness in the future. Keep it up Sakura!

ZUKAN

The second band is one of the bands that I could not wait to see and it one of the reasons that I go to the PLRF each year. ZUKAN is a band who comes from Okinawa and are extremely proud of their home town of Kin. (You can see many images of Kin in the video above.) They are extremely energetic and always ready to bring an exciting show playing with the crowd. This year they brought out watermelon for the crowd and sprayed everyone with a squirt gun before throwing it into the crowd. Regardless whether you understand what they are saying you can’t help but tap your toes and dance. The music is in my opinion very representative of Okinawa not only in it’s feel but also in some cases with the use of “eisa” both in the dance that they do and encourage the crowd to do and in the lyrics themselves. It’s a lot of good fun and they certainly did not disappoint this year. They never do!

Hello Sleepwalkers

The third band was one that we had not been familiar with before. I am not sure if they had played PLRF before but if they had it was not within the past 5 years that we have attended. They were very good and we enjoyed them quite a bit. None of the music was recognizable to us but that didn’t prevent us from tapping our toes and flapping our fans to the beat. There is a female guitarist or bassist (I really could not tell from where I was sitting) who had fantastic presence and did a great job. It was very cool.

陸奥守吉行

陸奥守吉行 was my favorite band of this entire show. I hate to go ahead and put that down here so soon before I finish talking about the other bands but there is no use in waiting until the end. They had me in the first 30 seconds of their performance as they started all walking out onto the stage and I saw that the sanshin was being played (I am a huge fan of the rock/classic Japanese style music). The fact that they were all dressed in these beautiful Japanese style samurai outfits also added to the appeal of 陸奥守吉行. Once the set started it was all over I was hooked and I needed to get more! The lead singer had a voice that I just can’t get enough of and combine that with the sound of the sanshin and mix in rock and it’s all over. The music is catchy and the stage presence was just fascinating. I would honestly love to say more about 陸奥守吉行 but to be completely honest there is nothing more to say. The sound was amazing, the performance was amazing, I will be searching for their CD once I get back from Tokyo.

D-51

D-51 is a pop group from Okinawa which consists of two main guys. They are usually not very interesting to me because I am not into the type of music or the style of performance but this year my might was slightly changed. Usually they perform with a background track and although they are energetic on stage the performance never really stands up to the rest. This year, however, they surprised us with a full band and background singers which was a great surprise. This had made the performance much more energetic and lively. There is something better about live performances which I enjoyed quite a bit. Although the band does not rank high on my list of favorites (sorry D-51) I did enjoy their show this year better than the previous years.

Civilian Skunk

The first time we saw Civilian Skunk it was last year at the PLRF and they were good then and super cute (they all matched from hair all the way down to their shoes). The music was good but you could tell by their stage presence that they were new to this. They were confident but more into playing music than they were into working the crowd. This year all of that changed. Civilian Skunk has moved up to the top of my “favorites chart”. They worked the crowd and have developed their own style. This year they were not matching like last year but they were all dressed fashionably which was super cool because you could tell the personality of each and I think it made them all more comfortable on stage. The show was great and they have already made leaps and bounds. I certainly think they will keep gaining popularity among people here in Okinawa and hopefully expand beyond the island.

Kachan Band 

Katchan Band. The Okinawa Legend. People come from far and wide to listen to the Katchan Band over at Jack Nasty’s on Gate Two Street or at least they did. Jack Nasty’s recently closed it’s doors (so I read although this could have changed) but the band played on at the PLRF this year. So what to say about Kachan band? If you like everything balanced, understandable and with proper function you are not going to like the Kachan band. They are known for doing something ridiculous, strange and humorous most of the time and in my opinion most people can’t wait to go and see how they are going to twist classic rock songs in a way that is going to make you laugh and sing along. This year the Kachan band started off with a woman in a black veil summoning via dance a large egg which was carried on a ritualistic looking platform by about 10 men and pulled by a man dressed like Moses if he were an inmate as he was wearing orange and tied with ropes to this large egg thing. The “egg” was brought down to the stage while the woman continued her summon and it got more intense the closer the egg got. Once the egg was on stage a man dressed like a middle eastern person (white robe with large veil over his head and the tight scarf which circles the veil to keep it on (I am sorry those of you of middle eastern decent I am not sure what any of this is called) comes out and begins singing “born to be wild”. The egg eventually hatches to reveal our legend himself who this year is dressed as a monkey with a top hat and exposing his bare bottom to the crowd. (I should mention that this is nothing new for the Kachan band lead singer/main attraction who is often doing something outrageous. He has with him his signature fishing pole with a flying stitch toy on the end so we know it’s him for sure, well because of that and the hat. The performance consisted of him singing various songs which everyone knows the words to putting his monkey spin on it grunting and giving an “ug” when the music would make it funny. This continues on the the entire set with the leader making sure that hey is commenting on the crowd. It’s a good time but I admit it might not be something for everyone. This was what I considered the best “performance” as it usually ends up being. There is something that has to do with the fun, recognizable music and all around ridiculous nature of the show which screams rock and roll to me.

Freddie Eto & Queeness

Freddie oh Freddie, I can’t help but get excited each and every time that this band plays. Freddie Eto & Queeness is a Queen cover band made up of Japanese people. I honestly am not sure where they are from but they rock the house each and every year. The best part about all of this is that they take the performance to the next level. Although Freddie is short and quite a bit bigger than Freddie Mercury was he still keeps true to the movements, the way he walks all the way down to the way that he talks to the audience. That’s right he speaks in English and with an English accent. Does it get any better than that? The way that he plays with the crowd all the way down the the way that he interacts with other band members screams QUEEN! It’s a lot of fun especially for those of us who know all the queen songs by heart.

美女♂men Vlossom

I am not going to lie I very much anticipated this band since I saw that they were playing. There was something about the picture of them on the flyer which interested me and then when I looked them up WOW I was even more interested. You don’t have to read Japanese to understand that the name of this band has the man symbol in it as well as “men” so what’s up with this? Well in short these girls are actually guys. Yeah that’s right no lady parts under those cute outfits. If you weren’t confused already this group does not even pretend to be girls at all. They all speak like men and are clearly a group of men who dress like women to sing and dance. It’s almost comedic, their act that is, especially the way that they conduct themselves which is clearly to show that they are men. The show started out, for example, with the lead singer demanding that everyone come down the the center of the arena in front of the stage because they came all the way from Tokyo. He was loud and used a roaring voice which was in and of itself. In fact he stated that he would be taking three minutes for everyone to figure out what they were doing and come down to be part of the crowd. There is a lot more that was said but my listening skills are not very good when someone is speaking as fast as he was.  Once he started singing I was again taken by surprise when they opened with a metal song (not heavy metal but close enough for me to raise an eyebrow). They continued on with another exercise like song which was hilarious in my honest opinion especially because a lot of people who were exercising with the band. It was. . . ridiculous and great at the same time. Ultimately they kept us guessing the entire time which was great.

We ended up leaving after this band because we were beat by this time and we had seen everyone we wanted to. There were a few more bands that played this evening but we called it quits because we were both exhausted and in need of something cold and refreshing. Overall the event was great as it is every year. We didn’t go for the second day but I am sure that the bands were wonderful as well. I cannot wait for next year. I am hoping that some of these bands come back because I would love to see them again! So did you go to the PLRF? If you did leave your comments below!