Getting Sick in Japan

Whoah, two posts in one week?! I know what you must be thinking: clearly, Grace must have dropped out of college if she has enough free time to actually write on her blog for once.

Well, not quite. Instead, something arguably worse has happened: I have caught a cold. For those of you who know me, this may not seem like particularly riveting news. I mean,  in America, I was ill more often than healthy, so the fact that I have become sick yet again may not seem like something worthy of writing a whole blog post about.

However, there are a few major differences between my current cold, and the hundreds I had in America. First off, I haven’t really been sick in Japan yet. There was one time when I caught a cold right when I first got here, but classes had yet to start and it was still summer, so I just laid in bed for a day, eating those fruit jelly things and bemoaning my luck. But still, it was not cold out and I was able to recover fast enough that it did not strike me as a particularly notable experience. I had also just arrived, so I chalked it up to shock from moving to the other side of the planet and moved on with my life.

The second difference is that I can’t really afford to miss class here. In America, if I got sick, I could just stay home for a few days, and nothing major would have happened when I returned, so I could basically just pick up where I left off. Here, our classes move so quickly that missing even one period is like missing a whole day, and missing a whole day (3 periods), is like missing a whole week of Japanese classes. So I can’t afford to cocoon myself in my bed until I feel better like I normally would; I need to put on some extra layers, grab some tissues, and continue as normal.

The third and most important difference is that I am in Japan. This means that there is none of the same OTC medicine, I can’t read what any of the medicine does, and going to the doctor is an ordeal that will involve translators and more confusion than my sick brain wants to handle. This makes even a simple thing like a cold a lot more challenging because I can’t just squirt some Afrin and be on my way. Most, if not all, American drugs that I am used to either do not exist here or have such a low strength I may as well be taking Smarties.

So, how did I end up in this predicament? Well, as my Father was quick to point out the second I called looking for sympathy, it is entirely my own fault. During my winter break, I was so ridiculously free that basically all I did was read and sleep (which was lovely by the way, no complaints here), but then over the last 5 days of my break I a) went to Fukuoka for three days and slept approximately 4 hours the entire time, b) performed in a promotional concert for the theatre circle I was in and consequently, again, did not sleep, and c) spent the last day frantically doing all the homework I had put off during the rest of the week so I, you guessed it, did not sleep.

Hanging out with Hedwig at an owl cafe in Fukuoka.

This meant that all of the relaxing and recovering that I had done at the beginning of the break was all for naught, since I got back to classes more tired than I was when they had let out. Also, the friend I went to Fukuoka with was already sick, and if I even make eye contact with someone ill then I almost guaranteed to contract whatever malady they have as well.

Classes started up again on Tuesday since there was a Japanese holiday that Monday celebrating those who would be turning 20 this year (the legal age of adulthood in Japan), but on Monday, as I frantically tried to remember all the kanji I had forgotten, I could already feel myself getting sick. When I woke up on Tuesday, I was fully ill, with a headache, stuffy nose, and sour disposition to boot.

Now, Japanese medicines are notoriously weak, and the only advice I could find online through looking through expat blogs was “don’t get sick in Japan, because their medicine is too weak to cure you and you will just be miserable forever.” Sounds promising. But luckily, as an APU student, I had other options. Because medicine is so weak here, it is one of the first things that comes up when you research moving to Japan, so every APU student comes armed with their own personal stash of medicine from their home country. I too brought a whole box of Advil and Benadryl, but somehow I forgot to bring any decongestants, which is really what I needed.

Now that winter has well and truly set in, all of the international students are basically moonlighting as apothecaries. If you so much as cough in public, you will have 5 people coming up to you saying “I have these pills from India, I don’t know the English translation is but take 5 and you will be ready to take on the world,” or “I have this tea made from berries that only grow in the plateaus of Mongolia; it smells like cheese but you will never get sick again.” Now, in my box of medicine, I have pills and teas and powders from at least 10 different countries, with rough descriptions of what each will do to me if I take them written on the back.


The aforementioned cheese-smelling tea.


I will admit that this is probably not the method of treatment most doctors would prescribe, and since I worked in a pharmacy for a year before coming here I will agree that is was quite stressful at first. But after taking what the cashier at the Japanese drugstore assured me was “the strongest cold medicine they sold” and feeling absolutely no change whatsoever, I was willing to risk it. And besides, no one has died yet, so it can’t be too bad.

In addition to my international cocktail of drugs, I have also been taking these little brown bottles of what I can only assume is vitamin juice. I honestly have no idea what is in them, but everyone here says they are the best thing when you are sick, and whether this is the placebo effect or not I actually do feel better as soon as I take one. their names are vague at best, with my favorite one literally just being called “Fine,” and although the brown bottle kind of hides it, if you spill any you will discover that it is a color similar to the inside of a yellow glowstick. This color will also make a reappearance the next time you hear nature calling, if you catch my drift.

My fluorescent lifesaver.

I did end up missing two classes on Thursday, since I the nap that I had planned to last just for third period (12:00-2:00) ended up running a little over, till around 7:30 pm. But in my defense, If I was able to get a full nights sleep in the middle of the day without waking up, it’s probably because I needed it. And I guess it worked, because now it is Saturday and I am feeling almost completely back to normal.

So, moral of the story is this: Don’t get sick in Japan, but if you do, make sure you have hundreds of international students around you to provide you with whatever foreign remedy they can think of.


3 thoughts on “Getting Sick in Japan

  1. Gj got a migraine while everyone was on break, in the middle of the night. No meds available. Hot shower and lots of prayer ahh life in Japan


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