Living in Japan is a perilous affair. Just one look at the inhabitants will tell a visitor to beware, dangerous heat seeking bacterium of potentially nefarious origin lurk around every doorway waiting to catch an unaware immune system dormant. Countless numbers of my National Geographic quality pics have been ruined by paranoid mask wearing individuals – none of which can be salvaged by the Elizabeth Taylor lens or the indispensable crop feature.
Add to this paranoia of 10 plagues the concern about “The Big One.” Earthquake. Japan sits on several ever shifting tectonic plates which have doomed the island nation to catastrophe at some point in the next ten years. We’ve witnessed 3 small ones since our arrival. I believe that the more of these the better. Any pressure release off the plates keeps “The Big One” at bay in my book.
Being a family of nomads, fears specific to a particular geography I have found to be overblown. The scorpions in Arizona provided mindless entertainment for the cats. I neglected my parental obligations in protecting my children by choosing not to invest in black lights for illuminating the hallways at night so that the sleepy night walkers could easily identify the now incandescent glowing army of scorpions guarding the bathroom doors. Who knew scorpions glow in the dark? As far as I know, no one died while visiting our house in Arizona. Nor did anyone get attacked by a wild cougar during our sojourn in Seattle.
Although skeptical of the Nostradamus type predictions of Tokyo’s demise within a certain time frame, I did find it prudent to investigate the appropriate emergency procedures regarding earthquakes and medical emergencies. Living in a foreign country with the vocabulary and grammar of a toddler presents numerous communication obstacles in an emergency.
The Tokyo American Club conducts a yearly orientation every September for newly arrived foreigners outlining basic information on assimilating to life in Tokyo. Although the thought of sitting through a two-day seminar encouraged me to drive nails through my eyeballs, the threat of missed opportunities from a purposeful lack of information due to my own laziness forced my attendance.
The first two presentations scared the Hell out of me. Earthquakes. The first guest spent a month without power, water or food after the earthquake in Kobe while across the bay life went on as normal. We were told to be prepared to walk to the airport in case of a big earthquake 60 miles away. It wouldn’t have been complete without scary video (Click here for scary video) and there were lots of them. I bought three emergency back packs for $300 dollars each. The contents of these back packs will allow our family to survive, injured, on fire, with 4 broken limbs for several weeks. It will take us that long to walk to the airport which for mysterious reasons will be functioning normally.
Our next presentation was equally uplifting. Medical emergencies. The timing for this presentation was appropriate as I was on the verge of a medical emergency immediately following the earthquake presentation. Truthfully, I was already an old pro at the medical system given that one of the Clampetts had already suffered a broken toe. I sat back as the English doctor took the podium. The World recognizes the inferiority of the UK medical system versus the prestigious American Ivory Tower epicenter of all medicinal knowledge – I doubted he would tell me anything of value. I raised my American flag and pulled out the IPhone – time to check my email. I’d already vetted the closest hospital. Thing I and Thing II kept me up on the latest advances in ER procedures and locations. Between that and 18 years in Big Pharma- I doubted he could tell me anything about healthcare I didn’t know. Yawn, stretch.
Dr. Dr. “Japanese Hospitals can turn you away if you arrive in an ambulance. For any reason – if you are afraid you will be turned away- take a cab. They can’t turn you away if you arrive in a cab.”
That got my attention.
A hospital can just turn you away because they feel like it? I’ve heard of reasons like full or understaffed- but no reason? So take a cab?
Dr. Dr. ” Also, something you may not be used to where you come from. The hospital Emergency rooms aren’t open 24 hours or on weekends- only certain hospitals have those hours.”
Just one issue-One only needs an Emergency room on weekends or in the middle of the night. Thankfully Dr. Dr. provided hand outs with the ER listings. Offspring #1 has been to the ER so many times I had to rotate between them in order to avoid Child Protective Services. I think Spouse may have even been interviewed by them when Offspring #1 accidentally broke Offspring #2’s arm but that was such a long time ago it hardly even counts now….
As hard as it is for me to admit, I went straight home, hair on fire, and re-wrote my emergency plan. The hospitals were re-mapped according to which ones had 24 hours emergency services. I double checked our family physician information for the cell phone number. Didn’t he tell me to call him on his cell phone in an emergency? Yes he did. Good. That meant I was completely covered. Ouiser’s Type A Emergency Check List was completed and “X”d.
Physician Info X
Dentist Info X
Hospital (2) X
Map X All points highlighted, evac sites, English, Japanese
Taxi direc (J) X
Etc… (You get the picture)
Armed with the interesting tidbit that people only react to information within 3 days of receiving it, I distributed the emergency backpacks to Spouse’s office, home, etc. and refilled with small bills, maps, copies of passports, and all things needed to get out of the country. I bought gallons of water and canned food in case we got stuck for 2 to 3 weeks.
I love this blog! Very insightful. I enjoy living through your experiences.
Thanks Klatonic! I wish it was you who’d lived through this one….kidding of course- wouldn’t wish that on anyone
I know it’s not funny, but I laughed out loud reading this post! I remember our first meetings here in US, where they were teaching us a trick or two about living here. love, love your article.
We can all relate to the horror!!!
You are so smart to have an emergency plan! The last time my husband and I were in Japan, there was a minor earthquake that my husband slept through and I experienced because I had jet lag and was up at 4am.
Since I’ve only been there for 2 weeks at a time, I usually bring enough medication (all kinds and varieties) with me to last the whole trip. During our first visit, however, my husband needed aspirin so we went into a 7-Eleven to get some. In Japanese, I asked the guy at the counter where the aspirin was. I got a weird look, so I asked again. Then I broke out the dictionary and pointed to the word for aspirin (which, btw, is a-su-pi-rin!) and eventually came to understand that 7-Eleven does not sell aspirin and I had to track down an actual standalone pharmacy to get it!
I know- it took me a while to get used to going to a pharmacy for all things OTC
Actually it used to be like that in Japan.
But since 2009 June 1st, convenience stores and supermarkets, etc can sell “over the counter” medicine if they get licensed.
Thanks for the comment- I hope you keep reading so you can point out what I haven’t learned yet!
He he…it’s the “little” things that get you! Maybe you need to send a suggestion to The Tokyo American Club on the important information that is missing from their presentations 🙂
Interestingly, and apparently very different from your situation, is that in many countries in the Middle East, the pharmacy is the first place anyone goes, and many drugs that would require a prescription in the U.S. are available over the counter. This has sometimes made my life much easier, as I can look up the active ingredients of whatever medicine I need (since the brand names are different) and then just go buy it. However, this did once lead to a pharmacist trying to give me an anti-malarial medicine when what I was searching for was pain meds…so you have to stay on top of things.
I’ve heard Mexico is similar- interesting how each country has its own way…
Our doctors in the UK are great. I don’t know why Americans think otherwise.
Our viewpoint on medicine has gotten us in quite a jam with healthcare hasn’t it!!!
Oh Ouiser..I know you must less itchy now! Jorge and I never had an emergency plan when we lived in CA..you can imagine what we(esp Jorge) were like when our first earthquake hit..middle of the night..glasses way over on the bathroom sink and kids across the house..that night after the quake I actually felt safe after with Jorge! Can you imagine??? I am impressed that you have a plan!
LOL at the chaos in that house!
Same here! Even to get ibuprofen you need to make a doctor’s visit and get a prescription. Let’s not even get into yeast infection meds!
I’m enjoying your blog, I’d really love to travel to Japan!
Thanks! No ibuprofen? That’s harsh…Spain is it?
Always get a few extra diflucans prescribed every time you are home…And in an emergency, now you know I always have some!! And lots of other spare meds too!
Great post again! I thought my emergency list was okay, but I didn’t think about the yeast infection possibilities!!! Very worried now…
Since I’m in China I can’t give you any tips on health insurance, but don’t you have travelers insurance or expat insurance? My Dutch insurance doesn’t cover anything when abroad, so I canceled it and went with a travel insurance. There are a lot of good sites around and most of them also give personal advice to help you pick the one that suits you best.
Hope you’re feeling better by now!
Thanks so much! I learned a valuable lesson or two on that one. Now the health insurance has caught up with the move – I appreciate your comments because knowing the health care insurance coverage- and having it- are a must.