Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Japanese medicine

I have lived in Japan for about 13 years now and every year the number of things that I "need" to be sent from New Zealand seems to decrease (I can hear my family saying "thank goodness" from here!). I think this is a combination of getting used to the Japanese things as well as finding ways of getting things from New Zealand here in Japan. One thing that I can't seem to get used to here though is the medicine. The standard painkillers just don't seem to work and the medicine is often just too horrible to take. The reason I say this is because at the moment I have a cough that just won't seem to go away. I don't want to go to the doctor so I dug into our medicine box (more on that later) and got some cough medicine. Now I'm pretty sure that in New Zealand the majority of cough medicine is in a syrup form which is great if you have a slightly sore throat as it just slides down and the flavour is usually very pleasant. Unfortunately a lot of the medicine here is in a powder form which you tip into your mouth and then gulp down with buckets of water. It is actually quite a good idea - you can take it anywhere and don't have to measure it out. However in reality most of this powder tastes absolutely disgusting and tends to stick to the sides of your mouth before eventually making its way down your throat. Also when you have a cough you tend to cough a lot and often just as you put things into your mouth.... which means the powder flies all around the room! Most of the children's powder medicine is nicely flavored (with the exception of some which is so bitter you need to mix it with liquid chocolate to make it go down), but apparently adults should be strong..... give me the nice New Zealand liquid stuff any day!
On a better note, Japan has a great system regarding medicine boxes (I don't know if this is all over Japan, but it is very common here). There are many companies that give you a full box of medicine (I think we had 4 full boxes at one stage) for free. You just keep it on your shelf and every 4 months or so the salesperson comes around with their little machine, checks what is left in it, replaces any out of date medicine and then charges you for any medicine you have actually used. My husband tells me the system started in the Edo period (1603 to 1868) in Toyama prefecture where there was a pharmaceutical company that began to distribute medicine all over Japan (I have no idea if this is true or not). Anyway, it is a good system in that you don't have to buy a whole lot of medicine just in case you need it and then discover it is all out of date a few years later. You also don't need to go racing around in the middle of the night trying to find a chemist which is open (an impossible task her in rural Japan!).
So there is a muddled version of the good and bad about Japanese medicine. Of course I could go on about the amazing excess of medicine prescribed here (once a doctor told me that there was no medicine that would help my daughter and then proceeded to give me a prescription for 3 different medicines....) but I'm sure you are sleepy enough already!


  1. Anonymous6:18 AM

    Note to sell.... bring my own cough medicine!

  2. Anonymous6:18 AM

    Clearly that should say... note to SELF not sell!

  3. Hi
    I am Lulu- I think this is my first time commenting so thought I best introduce myself first.

    I HATE the powder medicine too!!! Pavlon is the worst...Yuck! When I have to have the powder stuff I put it in disolvable plastic stuff (obviously not plastic but it just disolves)- MIL got it for me since she saw how much I struggled with it most mornings.

    I always buy medicines when I am back home too (and toothpaste!) - Hope you can get the syrup!

  4. Anonymous1:21 AM

    I heard that companies give away medicine boxes like this, like bonuses and so their staff won't take medical leave as often???

  5. Yeah for Nurofen plus - it really is magic! Hmmmmmm, I think all doctors prescribe now - however, don't we all want a quick fix? Some of my children need a medicine to help them do as they are told, go to sleep on command, pick up toys and clothes....... - now, that would be worth gulpping down powder eh?

  6. Megan: Yes, definately bring your own medicine.... My supply is not great enough to supply you as well!
    Lulu: Thanks for commenting. I am a bit of a closet reader too... I often feel like commenting on different blogs, but never seem to have the time! I have been enjoying reading yours though... from a distance! I am definately going to have to try and find some of those capsules. That might make life much more pleasant! I have finally gotten used to Japanese toothpaste, but it did take at least 10 years!
    Anonymous: I have never heard of companies giving away the boxes, but it sounds like something they would do. Although in my experience most Japanese workers don't need too much encouragement to stay at work.... they seem to refuse to take holidays even if they are close to dying - or maybe that is just in the countryside here...
    Jo: I have a huge box of nurofen plus that I carry everywhere! It even saved me from a full blown migraine last week.. Unfortunately even here in Japan they haven't quite found a medicine that deals with children properly. I always find that shutting them in with the chickens for a few hours works well....

  7. I am doing a project on old medicine from japan. Can you tell me what you know about yakutaishi?? It was used in the Edo era to wrap powdered medicine in. Traditionally made from thick handmade paper. I would like to know specifically about how the powdered medicine was wrapped. If you can help, Thankyou. If not, Thankyou anyway. I cannot seem to find anything about it on the internet.

    -Ana from the United States

  8. Hey, this was quite good, I just got given powdered medicine from the doctor along with pills, they explained what the pills were for but I was unaware that the powder was medicine as I hadn't seen it before, so never thought to ask about it. So when I got home and realised I had to take it I was really confused, I tried mixing it with water but it wouldn't disolve, I asked a Japanese person and they told me to pour it into my mouth and then drink water but it tastes so bad I wasn't sure if it was safe to ingest or not.