Must-know Facts About Japan’s Drug System and Drug Store | Guidable - Your Guide to a Sustainable, Wellbeing-centred Life in Japan

Must-know Facts About Japan’s Drug System and Drug Store

By Guidable Writers Sep 27, 2017

This post is also available in: French


Dear foreigners who have been or would be in Japan.


I am sure that you have been enjoying or plan to have some wonderful days in Japan, although you might accidentally have some physical problems such as stomachache, headache, wounds and other small troubles during your staying in Japan. Then, of course, you might have to consult with a doctor at first. In such case, you had better have a national health insurance for it as you have to pay more than 3 times higher fees without it. Especially, if you would stay more than 3 months in Japan, you might be obliged to have a national health insurance depending on where you would live and/or what you would do. However, you could also try to ease them with drugs/medicines that are sold at the drug stores without any doctor’s consultations. In this article, I would like to focus on the drug/medicine system in Japan briefly and the introduction of some chain drug stores. Basically, drugs/medicines you could get at the drug stores are called OTC (Over The Counter) drugs/medicines and classified into four categories. (In the following, I abbreviate OTC drugs/medicines as OTCs.)



4 categories for drugs/medicines


1.OTCs which need consultations

Mainly new OTCs which are switched from “Ethical drugs” are classified in this category. As these OTCs are in the markets for the first time as an OTC, some careful consultations should be needed for some periods. (To prevent severe side-effects). You could only purchase them at the drug stores at where a pharmacist is available. (At least one pharmacist should exist.) You should consult such pharmacist when you would need these OTCs. You had better know your personal history of allergy against any pharmaceutical ingredients.


2.Class one OTCs

OTCs still required pharmacist’s consultations are classified in this category. These OTC might have some side-effects depending on patient’s physical condition. If you were allergy against some pharmaceutical ingredients, you had better be able to give such information to a pharmacist at a store.


3.Class two OTCs

OTCs which might have some side-effects, however, no pharmacist’s consultations are necessary, are classified in this category.


4.Class three OTCs

These OTCs have much fewer side-effects and you could buy these at even some convenience stores. For example, Vitamins and medicine for controlling intestinal function are included.

You could check, in which category the OTC you would purchase is classified, on the package.


These products are classified as Class 2 OTCs.



5big drug chain stores in Japan

Under this circumstance, you had better purchase OTCs with knowing your actual and historical conditions. I now would like to introduce 5 big drug chain stores in Japan. You could get many OTCs at these stores at a less expensive price with pharmacist’s consultations. Please feel free to ask any questions you have at these drug stores in order for you to get the right OTCs.


1.Tsuruha Drug

The largest drug chain stores with about 1,800 stores in Japan. Fukutaro, Wants, Wellness and Lady Yakkyoku are sister companies under Tsuruha Holdings.


2.Matsumoto Kiyoshi

The most famous drug stores in Japan known as “Matsukiyo”. There are around 1,600 stores in Japan. Their image color is mainly yellow. Many stores are located nearby train stations. In some areas, two “Matsukiyo” are located within 10 – 30 meters away!


3.Welcia Yakkyoku

You could also get a prescribed drug at around 1,000 out of 1,500 stores.



They have many stores of totally about 1,300 stores in various areas not only close to a train station, but also in the middle living areas.


5.Sugi drug

This drug chain store is a pioneer for prescribed drug in Japan with about 1,000 stores.



At these stores, you could also purchase some cosmetics, health food products, candies, some snack foods, and so on at lower prices than the regular prices. As a rare case, you might be also able to get some fresh foods including eggs, milk, hams, sausages, etc. Furthermore, some of these stores offer “Tax-Free” as well. When you would purchase such products, you have to have your passport and you could only get refunds at the airport before your departure. Also, you have to have those products with you at the airport for refunds since you are obliged to show them at customs. Thus, please do not check those products in at an airline check-in counter.


At these stores, I recommend you to get the “Point card”. Usually, you could get 1 point for each 100 – 200 yen purchasing amount. Then, you could exchange the points you saved with coupon or cash. They sometimes offer double – 10 times point-service periodically. For example, “5 times more point than usual on a day with 7 such as 7th, 17th and 27th in every month!!”  Good deal! Don’t you think? Why don’t you take advantage of such services?


I really hope that you would not need any of doctor’s consultations and/or any of drugs/medicines. However, could you predict what would be happened to you in the future? In Japan, we say “Korobanu Sakino Tsue” that means “Prepare a stick before you leap”. I hope that this topic would be one of your sticks. Take care!!!


By Kenny Y./Japan